Saturday, December 7, 2013

Israel Poses a Serious Dilemma for Europe’s Jews. By Diana Pinto.

Israel poses a serious dilemma for Europe’s Jews. By Diana Pinto. Haaretz, February 14, 2013. Also here.

Obama in Israel’s New World. By Diana Pinto. Project Syndicate, March 14, 2013.

Towards an European Jewish Identity. By Diana Pinto. Golem.

The Man Behind the Mandela Myth. By John Campbell.

Think Again: Nelson Mandela. By John Campbell. Foreign Policy, December 6, 2013. Also here.

The man behind the myth – and the tenuous future of South Africa.

The Character of Nelson Mandela. By Max Boot. Commentary, December 5, 2013.

Don’t Distort the Meaning of Mandela. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, December 5, 2013.

Nelson Mandela: A Jewish Perspective. By Michael Lerner. Tikkun, December 6, 2013.

Our Promised Land. By James Traub.

Our Promised Land. By James Traub. Foreign Policy, December 6, 2013. Also here.

Secretary of Nothing: John Kerry and the Myth of Foreign Policy. By Andrew Cockburn. Harper’s Magazine, December 2013.

Surprise – The Very Dark Side of U.S.History. By Robert Parry and Peter Dale Scott. AlterNet, October 8, 2010.


How the beautiful, painful, and problematic birth of Israel mirrors modern America’s moral ambiguity.

I have been reading My Promised Land, Ari Shavit’s extraordinary account of the founding and growth of Israel. It is a book one reads not simply for historical instruction but for moral guidance. Shavit is an ardent Zionist who is nevertheless imbued with a sense of Israel’s tragic condition. “Tragedy,” as Shavit uses it, does not refer to the suffering of the Jewish people but rather to the suffering – the unavoidable suffering – of the Palestinian people as a result of the Zionist project. In his narrative of the brutal conquest of the Arab city of Lydda by Israeli forces in May 1948, Shavit returns again and again to the idealistic, even utopian young men who killed Arab civilians and forced the entire population into a death march in the desert. Their anguish, shame, confusion is Shavit's own; and so is their acknowledgment that it could not have been otherwise. Both conquest and expulsion “were an inevitable phase of the Zionist revolution that laid the foundation for the Zionist state.” No Lydda, no Israel.
What would it mean for an American to apply this tragic understanding to his own circumstances? In regard to the national founding, the analogy to Israel is glaringly obvious. If the American pioneers had accepted that the indigenous people they found on the continent were not simply features of the landscape but people like themselves, and thus had agreed to occupy only those spaces not already claimed by the Indians, then today’s America would be confined to a narrow band along the Eastern seaboard. No Indian wars, no America. And yet, like slavery, the wars and the forced resettlement constitute a terrible reproach to the founders’ belief that America was a uniquely just and noble experiment.
But when I say that I am reading Shavit for moral guidance, I’m thinking of the American present, not just the past. The tragic sense is largely alien to Americans, and to American policymakers. Americans have an almost unique faith in the malleability of the world, and of the intrinsic appeal of their own principles (a faith which Shavit writes that Israel’s settlers shared until the Palestinians first rose up against them in 1936). In Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger argued that all American presidents from the time of Woodrow Wilson (possibly excepting his own pupil, Richard Nixon) have been idealists, because the American people refuse to elect someone who speaks the tragic language of 19th century European statecraft.
But Shavit is not asserting, as classic realists do, that no one set of animating principles is better than another, and thus one should be agnostic among them. Nor is he simply warning, as realists do, that great projects inevitably miscarry. Shavit argues that we must act, and do so in the name of a moral vision; but that our action must be governed by a recognition of the harm we cause to others, and perhaps also to ourselves. The bad outcome does not prove bad motives, but neither do the good motives excuse the bad outcome.

There Is a Clash of Civilizations. By Alain Finkielkraut.

There Is a Clash of Civilizations. Interview with Alain Finkielkraut by Mathieu von Rohr and Romain Leick. Spiegel Online, December 6, 2013.


Alain Finkielkraut is one of France's most controversial essayists. His new book, “L’Identité Malheureuse” (“The Unhappy Identity,” Éditions Stock ), has been the subject of heated debate. It comes at a time when France finds itself in the midst of an identity crisis. But rather than framing things from a social or political perspective, Finkielkraut explores what he sees as a hostile confrontation between indigenous French people and immigrants. He was interviewed in his Parisian apartment on the Left Bank.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Finkielkraut, are you unhappy with today’s France?
Finkielkraut: I am pained to see that the French mode of European civilization is threatened. France is in the process of transforming into a post-national and multicultural society. It seems to me that this enormous transformation does not bring anything good.
SPIEGEL: Why is that? Post-national and multicultural sounds rather promising.
Finkielkraut: It is presented to us as the model for the future. But multiculturalism does not mean that cultures blend. Mistrust prevails, communitarianism is rampant – parallel societies are forming that continuously distance themselves from each other.
SPIEGEL: Aren’t you giving in here to the right-wingers’ fears of demise?
Finkielkraut: The lower middle classes – the French that one no longer dares to call Français de souche (ethnic French) – are already moving out of the Parisian suburbs and farther into the countryside. They have experienced that in some neighborhoods they are the minority in their own country. They are not afraid of the others, but rather of becoming the others themselves.
SPIEGEL: But France has always been a country of immigrants.
Finkielkraut: We are constantly told that immigration is a constitutive element of the French identity. But that’s not true. Labor migration began in the 19th century. It was not until after the bloodletting of World War I that the borders were largely opened.
SPIEGEL: Immigration has had more of a formative influence on France than on Germany.
Finkielkraut: Immigration used to go hand-in-hand with integration into French culture. That was the rule of the game. Many of the new arrivals no longer want to play by that rule. If the immigrants are in the majority in their neighborhoods, how can we integrate them? There used to be mixed marriages, which is crucial to miscegenation. But their numbers are declining. Many Muslims in Europe are re-Islamizing themselves. A woman who wears the veil effectively announces that a relationship with a non-Muslim is out of the question for her.
SPIEGEL: Aren’t many immigrants excluded from mainstream society primarily for economic reasons?
Finkielkraut: The left wanted to resolve the problem of immigration as a social issue, and proclaimed that the riots in the suburbs were a kind of class struggle. We were told that these youths were protesting against unemployment, inequality and the impossibility of social advancement. In reality we saw an eruption of hostility toward French society. Social inequality does not explain the anti-Semitism, nor the misogyny in the suburbs, nor the insult “filthy French.” The left does not want to accept that there is a clash of civilizations.
SPIEGEL: The anger of these young people is also stirred up by high unemployment. They are turning their backs on society because they feel excluded.
Finkielkraut: If unemployment is so high, then immigration has to be more effectively controlled. Apparently there is not enough work for everyone. But just ask the teachers in these troubled neighborhoods – they have major difficulties teaching anything at all. Compared to the rappers and the dealers, the teachers earn so ridiculously little that they are viewed with contempt. Why should the students make an effort to follow in their footsteps? There are a large number of young people who don’t want to learn anything about French culture. This refusal makes it harder for them to find work.
SPIEGEL: These neighborhoods that you speak of, have you even seen them firsthand?
Finkielkraut: I watch the news; I read books and studies. I have never relied on my intuition.
SPIEGEL: In the US the coexistence of communities works better. The Americans don’t have this European adherence to a national uniform culture.
Finkielkraut: The US sees itself as a country of immigration, and what is impressive about this truly multicultural society is the strength of its patriotism. This was particularly evident after the attacks of September 11, 2001. In France, however, the opposite could be seen after the attacks on French soldiers and Jewish children in Toulouse and Montauban last year: Some schoolchildren saw Mohamed Merah, the assailant, as a hero. Something like that would be unthinkable in the US. American society is a homeland for everyone. I don't think that many children of immigrants here see it that way.
SPIEGEL: America makes it easy for new arrivals to feel like Americans. Does France place the hurdles too high?
Finkielkraut: France prohibits students from wearing headscarves at school. This is also for the benefit of all Muslims who don’t want a religious cage for themselves, for their daughters and wives. France is a civilization, and the question is what it means to participate in it. Does this mean the natives have to make themselves extremely small so the others can easily spread themselves out? Or does it mean passing on the culture that one possesses?
SPIEGEL: But this has worked for a long time. The Italians, Spaniards, Poles and European Jews had no difficulties becoming French patriots. Why is this no longer working?
Finkielkraut: Why is there today such aggression toward the West in the Islamic world? Some say that France was a colonial power, which is why those who were colonized could not be happy. But why has Europe been subjected to this massive immigration from former colonies over the past half a century? France still has to pay for the sins of colonialism and settle its debt to those who vilify it today.
SPIEGEL: You yourself are the child of immigrants, the progeny of a persecuted family. Does your personal will to integrate explain your radical commitment to the values of the Republic?
Finkielkraut: I defend these values because I probably owe more to my schooling than do the Français de souche, the hereditary French. French traditions and history were not laid in my cradle. Anyone who does not bring along this heritage can acquire it in l’école républicaine, the French school system. It has expanded my horizons and allowed me to immerse myself in French civilization.
SPIEGEL: And made you into its apologist?
Finkielkraut: I can speak and write more openly than others precisely because I am not a hereditary Frenchman. The natives easily allow themselves to be unnerved by the prevailing discourse. I don't have such complexes.
SPIEGEL: How do you define this French civilization that you speak of?
Finkielkraut: I recently reread a book by the admirable Russian writer Isaac Babel. The story takes place in Paris. The narrator is in a hotel and at night he hears the lovemaking sounds of the couples next door. Babel writes: This has nothing to do with what one hears in Russia – it’s much more fiery. Then his French friend responds: We French created women, literature and cuisine. No one can take that from us.
SPIEGEL: Those are idealized clichés that nations create for themselves.
Finkielkraut: But it is true, or at least it was in the past. France can’t allow itself to bask in its own glory. But it has evidence of its civilization, just like Germany – it has its sights, its squares, its cafés, its wealth of literature and its artists. We can be proud of these ancestors, and we have to prove that we are worthy of them. I regret that Germany – for reasons that are understandable – has broken with this pride in its past. But I believe that German politicians who speak of Leitkultur – the guiding national culture – are right. The Leitkultur does not create an insurmountable barrier to newcomers.

A Real Arab Spring. By Norman Lebrecht.

A Real Arab Spring. By Norman Lebrecht. Standpoint, December 2013.


Coming out of a movie last month in one of those edge-of-town malls that disfigure Israeli conurbations, I ran into a conga line of men, women and children shuffling their way into a McDonald’s. The men wore T-shirts and jeans, the women flowery headscarves and varied outfits. Several danced along in silly conical hats. It was someone's birthday, by the look of it.
It took a second look to realise that the celebrants were a family of Israeli Arabs, descendants of the stubborn minority — some 150,000 Christians and Muslims — who refused to join the 750,000-strong Palestinian exodus in 1948. Today, by census, there are 1.6 million Israeli Arabs, some 20 per cent of the population. They enjoy full civic rights and a high level of prosperity. Beside the refugees, their lifestyle appears lavish.
As I drove through the Arab heartlands in Galilee, a hilly straggle of houses that I remember being blacked out at night for want of connection to the national grid has boomed into a noisy town with three-storey houses and an exclusive dealership in a European make of car much favoured by ultra-orthodox Jews.
Bars and restaurants on the Tel Aviv seafront are dotted with Arabs from Jaffa. On Friday night, the common day of rest, there are as many Israeli Arabs strolling along the promenade as there are Israeli Jews. When I remark on the phenomenon, young Israelis shrug as if my observation is too obvious to be worth mentioning. Integration has become a fact of life. Yet 25 years ago, Israeli Arabs were inconspicuous in Jewish towns and 45 years ago, as far as my memory extends, they were invisible.
In the first two decades of the state of Israel, until the Six Day War, Arab citizens were penned into pales of settlement, nervously watched by the security services. In the next two decades, they formed a no-man's-land between the Israeli state and the occupied Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, their resentful cousins. Torn between kinship and comfort, Israeli Arabs opted on the whole to put head over heart.
Over the past 25 years, normalisation has set in. Learning Hebrew at school as an obligatory second language, Israeli Arabs have made careers in most parts of the economy and in academic life. One of the most popular comedy series on commercial Israeli television is entitled Arab Labour. It makes merry with the tensions raised by a middle-class Arab family who move into an urban Israeli apartment block. In the episodes I have seen, Israeli Jews come off worst in the clash of cultures. One of the Arab actors, Mira Awad, has represented Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest. What could be more normal?
That is not to pretend that all is rosy. Israeli Arabs are subject to stringent airport and roadside security checks. Some complain of being treated as second-class citizens. A Jaffa driver told me his town had become overpriced and young men could not afford to buy a home. Economic progress and social participation, however, are positive indicators of how the country and the region might function if and when a peace agreement is reached. The Israeli Arabs serve, in this respect, as role models for a postwar utopia.
They also refute hostile clichés. The novelist Linda Grant drew attention in the Independent in March to a book by a French academic, Diana Pinto, arguing that Israel is functionally autistic-high-tech and tunnel-visioned, unable to see “the Other.” The vastly increased visibility of Israeli Arabs gives the lie to that theory.
It also confounds the perpetual accusation that Israel is somehow an “apartheid state.” If Israel were indeed a society founded on racial supremacy and separation, there would be no Arabs celebrating birthdays in shopping malls, no strollers on the Tel Aviv prom, no automobile millionaires in Galilee and no property boom in Jaffa. The apartheid libel, a propaganda ploy of the pro-Palestine lobby and the anti-Zionist Left, denies the blatant reality that Israel is a fast-evolving, multicultural society with more tolerance for minorities than any of its neighbours (and most European states). The casual confidence of its Arab citizens is testimony to a healthy society.