Friday, January 10, 2014

Ben-Gurion Didn’t Recognize Israel as the Nation State of the Entire Jewish People. By Chemi Shalev.

Ben-Gurion didn’t recognize Israel as the nation state of the entire Jewish people. By Chemi Shalev. Haaretz, January 8, 2014.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish State” or, in a different formulation, as the “nation state of the Jewish people.” He says that this recognition is “the real key for peace," a “minimal requirement” and an “essential condition” without which there can be no agreement.
Love it or loathe it, one cannot understate the public relations genius behind this stipulation. It has captured the imaginations of Israelis, Jews and many other Israel-supporting people around the world. Secretary of State John Kerry is said to be pressing Arab states to accept it. A decade ago it didn’t exist and, presto, out of the blue, it is the now the lynchpin of the process, it's sine qua non, the make or break issue.
I would be more than happy if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas somehow succeeded in overcoming Palestinian objections and acceded to Netanyahu’s demand. Palestinian recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people would remove a serious obstacle to peace talks and may convince Israelis that Palestinian rejectionism has turned a historic corner. Such a move would also put immense pressure on Israel to be far more forthcoming in the concessions that it needs to make to reach a deal.
But here’s the thing: I don’t know what Netanyahu’s demand is doing for Abbas, but it is making me increasingly uneasy. The more I think of the demand to recognize Israel as the “nation state of the Jewish people," whatever that is, the less I like it. In my eyes, Muslims and Christians who were born in Israel and live there are Israelis; Jews who live in Tulsa or Tashkent are not. Jews around the world may worship Israel but that does not make it theirs.
My position is this: “The name Israel differentiates between the sovereign Jewish people in its homeland, called by the name of Israel, and the Jewish people in the world, in all the generations and in all the land, who are called the “Jewish people” or the “people of Israel." That’s what David Ben-Gurion wrote to Brandeis historian and philosopher Simon Rawidowicz in 1954.
Rawidowicz – a towering Jewish intellectual whose memory has faded to the extent that he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry in English to his name – was a champion of the “equal status” of Israel and Diaspora Jewry, which he described as “Jerusalem and Babylon”. He objected to the name Israel that Ben-Gurion had chosen for the state because it excluded Diaspora Jews, and, in essence, relegated them to a second-tier status.
While denying charges of “negation of the Diaspora," as it was known then, Ben-Gurion, in effect, agreed with Rawidowicz: Diaspora Jews can worship Israel and can very well call themselves “the people of Israel” if they wish, but they are not Israelis, and Israel is not their country unless and until they choose to live there.
Likud leaders from Menachem Begin to Netanyahu have been systematically erasing Ben-Gurion’s fine line. As columnist Doron Rosenblum meticulously recorded over the years in Haaretz, the Likud and the religious right have steadily downgraded secular “Israeliness” as inherently alien and leftist and fostered traditional “Jewishness” for ideological, political and cultural reasons in its stead. When the Likud first came to power in 1977, most Jewish Israelis defined themselves as being Israelis before being Jews, but a majority now claims the opposite.
And if Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people as a whole, then the prime minister, ipso facto, is the prime minister of Jews wherever they may be. That’s why Netanyahu can tell the U.S. Congress “I speak on behalf of the Jewish people,” That’s how he can openly call on U.S. Jews to “stand up and be counted” in his campaign against U.S. policies on Iran. That’s why he made no effort to correct David Gregory who anointed him “Leader of the Jewish people” on Meet the Press last year.
The right wing, in fact, would like to adopt the Jewish people wholesale, wherever they are, and to thus prop up the Jewish majority in the “Greater Land of Israel” by remote control or even, potentially, by giving Diaspora Jews the vote. And by demanding that hundreds of thousands of Israeli Arabs be “transferred” to another sovereignty and another citizenship, Netanyahu’s deputy and Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is only confirming the claims of many Palestinians: that by recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, Abbas would be giving his blessing to those, like Lieberman, who view the citizenship of Israeli Arabs as second rate and expendable.
Don’t get me wrong: As long as there is a Jewish majority in Israel, I have no problem with its Jewish character or with its decision to grant automatic citizenship to any Jew who wishes to make it their home. Ancient ties, millennia of devotion and 20th century horrors justify such a position.
If Netanyahu had demanded that Abbas recognize the historic links between Israel and the Jewish people or its centrality in Israeli life, I would be backing him all the way. But Netanyahu has not only injected Abbas into the whole “Who is a Jew” conundrum, he wants him to accept that a Jew who lives in Buenos Aires has a weightier connection to Israel than the Palestinian family that has lived in Shfaram or in Tirah or in Taybe for hundreds of years.
That may be a reasonable position for Jewish uber-patriots, but it’s a bridge too far for me.
I have never accepted the contention that in order to be a Zionist one has to live in Israel. One can be a Zionist and support Israel even if one lives in Timbuktu. But one cannot live in Timbuktu and claim Israel as one’s own. Abbas may choose to accept Netanyahu’s demand, but as far as I am concerned, Israel is an Israeli state, and it is the nation state of Jews who choose to live in it. Period.

Fighting Back Against the New Anti-Semitism. By Charles Krauthammer.

Fighting Back Against the New Anti-Semitism. By Charles Krauthammer. National Review Online, January 10, 2014. Also at the Washington Post.

Ari Lesser: Boycott Israel. A Rap Reply to the Boycotters. Video. Ari Lesser, October 6, 2013. YouTube.


For decades, the American Studies Association has labored in well-deserved obscurity. No longer. It’s now made a name for itself by voting to boycott Israeli universities, accusing them of denying academic and human rights to Palestinians.
Given that Israel has a profoundly democratic political system, the freest press in the Middle East, a fiercely independent judiciary, and astonishing religious and racial diversity within its universities, including affirmative action for Arab students, the charge is rather strange.
Made more so when you consider the state of human rights in Israel’s neighborhood. As we speak, Syria’s government is dropping “barrel bombs” filled with nails, shrapnel, and other instruments of terror on its own cities. Where is the ASA boycott of Syria?
And of Iran, which hangs political, religious, and even sexual dissidents and has no academic freedom at all? Or Egypt, where Christians are being openly persecuted? Or Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or, for that matter, massively repressive China and Russia?
Which makes it obvious that the ASA boycott has nothing to do with human rights. It’s an exercise in radical chic, giving marginalized academics a frisson of pretend anti-colonialism, seasoned with a dose of edgy anti-Semitism.
And don’t tell me this is merely about Zionism. The ruse is transparent. Israel is the world’s only Jewish state. To apply to the state of the Jews a double standard that you apply to none other, to judge one people in a way you judge no other, to single out that one people for condemnation and isolation — is to engage in a gross act of discrimination.
And discrimination against Jews has a name. It’s called anti-Semitism.
Former Harvard president Larry Summers called the ASA actions “anti-Semitic in their effect if not necessarily in their intent.” I choose to be less polite. The intent is clear: to incite hatred for the largest — and only sovereign — Jewish community on earth.
What to do? Facing a similar (British) academic boycott of Israelis seven years ago, Alan Dershowitz and Nobel Prize–winning physicist Steven Weinberg wrote an open letter declaring that, for the purposes of any anti-Israel boycott, they are to be considered Israelis.
Meaning: You discriminate against Israelis? Fine. Include us out. We will have nothing to do with you.
Thousands of other academics added their signatures to the Dershowitz/Weinberg letter. It was the perfect in-kind response. Boycott the boycotters, with contempt.
But academia isn’t the only home for such prejudice. Throughout the cultural world, the Israel boycott movement is growing. It’s become fashionable for musicians, actors, writers, and performers of all kinds to ostentatiously cleanse themselves of Israel and Israelis.
The example of the tuxedoed set has spread to the more coarse and unkempt anti-Semites, such as the thugs who a few years ago disrupted London performances of the Jerusalem Quartet and the Israeli Philharmonic.
In this sea of easy and open bigotry, an unusual man has made an unusual statement. Russian by birth, European by residence, Evgeny Kissin is arguably the world’s greatest piano virtuoso. He is also a Jew of conviction. Deeply distressed by Israel’s treatment in the cultural world around him, Kissin went beyond the Dershowitz/Weinberg stance of asking to be considered an Israeli. On December 7, he became one, defiantly.
Upon taking the oath of Israeli citizenship in Jerusalem, he declared: “I am a Jew, Israel is a Jewish state. . . .  Israel’s case is my case, Israel’s enemies are my enemies, and I do not want to be spared the troubles which Israeli musicians encounter when they represent the Jewish state beyond its borders.”
Full disclosure: I have a personal connection with Kissin. For the last two years I’ve worked to bring him to Washington to perform for Pro Musica Hebraica, a nonprofit organization (founded by my wife and me) dedicated to reviving lost and forgotten Jewish classical music. We succeeded. On February 24, Kissin will be performing at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall masterpieces of Eastern European Jewish music, his first U.S. appearance as an Israeli.
The persistence of anti-Semitism, that most ancient of poisons, is one of history’s great mysteries. Even the shame of the Holocaust proved no antidote. It provided but a temporary respite. Anti-Semitism is back. Alas, a new generation must learn to confront it.
How? How to answer the thugs, physical and intellectual, who single out Jews for attack? The best way, the most dignified way, is to do like Dershowitz, Weinberg, or Kissin.
Express your solidarity. Sign the open letter or write your own. Don the yellow star and wear it proudly.

Point of No Return in Egypt. By Khaled Dawoud.

Point of no return. By Khaled Dawoud. The Arabist, January 8, 2014. Originally published in Arabic in El Tahrir, December 28, 2013.

Amanda Knox: I’ll Be A Fugitive If They Convict Me. By Barbie Latza Nadeau.

Amanda Knox: I’ll Be A Fugitive If They Convict Me. By Barbie Latza Nadeau. The Daily Beast, January 9, 2014.

An Italian newspaper says the babyfaced Seattle native vowed to go on the lam if an appellate court upholds her conviction in the trial of the murder of Meredith Kercher.

Amanda Knox: I’ll Be a Fugitive If Found Guilty Again of Murder. By Tom Kington. The Huffington Post, January 9, 2014.

A New Hampshire Rebellion for Aaron Swartz. By Lawrence Lessig.

A New Hampshire Rebellion for Aaron Swartz. By Lawrence Lessig. The Daily Beast, January 10, 2014.

What the Internet Did to Aaron Swartz. By Noam Scheiber. NJBR, March 12, 2013. With related articles.

Aaron Swartz, Internet Pioneer, Found Dead Amid Prosecutor “Bullying” In Unconventional Case. By Zach Carter. NJBR, January 13, 2013. With related articles.

The Smartest Book About Our Digital Age Was Published in 1929. By Ted Gioia.

The Smartest Book About Our Digital Age Was Published in 1929. By Ted Gioia. The Daily Beast, January 5, 2014.


How José Ortega y Gasset’s The Revolt of the Masses helps us understand everything from YouTube to Duck Dynasty.

I first read José Ortega y Gasset’s The Revolt ofthe Masses more than thirty years ago. I still remember how disappointed I was by this cantankerous book. I’d read other works by Ortega (1883-1955), and been impressed by the Spanish philosopher’s intelligence and insight. But this 1929 study of the modern world, his most famous book, struck me as hopelessly nostalgic and elitist.
Yet I recently read The Revolt of the Masses again, and with a completely different response. The same ideas I dismissed as old-fashioned and out-of-date back in the 20th century now reveal an uncanny ability to explain the most peculiar happenings of the digital age.
Are you, like me, puzzled to learn that Popular Science magazine recently shut down comments on its website, declaring that they were bad for science? Are you amazed, like me, that Duck Dynasty is the most-watched nonfiction cable show in TV history? Are you dismayed, like me, that crappy Hollywood films about comic book heroes and defunct TV shows have taken over every movie theater? Are you depressed, like me, that symphony orchestras are declaring bankruptcy, but Justin Bieber earned $58 million last year?
If so, you need to read The Revolt of the Masses. You’ve got questions. Ortega’s got answers.
First, let me tell you what you won’t find in this book. Despite a title that promises political analysis, The Revolt of the Masses has almost nothing to say about conventional party ideologies and alignments. Ortega shows little interest in fascism or capitalism or Marxism, and this troubled me when I first read the book. (Although, in retrospect, the philosopher’s passing comments on these matters proved remarkably prescient—for example his smug dismissal of Russian communism as destined to failure in the West, and his prediction of the rise of a European union.) Above all, he hardly acknowledges the existence of “left” and “right” in political debates.
Ortega’s brilliant insight came in understanding that the battle between “up” and “down” could be as important in spurring social and cultural change as the conflict between “left” and “right.” This is not an economic distinction in Ortega’s mind. The new conflict, he insists, is not between “hierarchically superior and inferior classes. . . . upper classes or lower classes.” A millionaire could be a member of the masses, according to Ortega’s surprising schema. And a pauper might represent the elite.
The key driver of change, as Ortega sees it, comes from a shocking attitude characteristic of the modern age—or, at least, Ortega was shocked. Put simply, the masses hate experts. If forced to choose between the advice of the learned and the vague impressions of other people just like themselves, the masses invariably turn to the latter. The upper elite still try to pronounce judgments and lead, but fewer and fewer of those down below pay attention.
Above all, the favorite source of wisdom for the masses, in Ortega’s schema, is their own strident opinions. “Why should he listen, when he has all the answers, everything he needs to know?” Ortega writes. “It is no longer the season to listen, but on the contrary, a time to pass judgment, to pronounce sentence, to issue proclamations.”
Ortega couldn’t have foreseen digital age culture, but he is describing it with precision. He would recognize the angry, assertive tone of comments on web articles as the exact same tendency he identified in 1929. He would understand why Yelp reviews have more influence than the considered judgments of restaurant reviewers. He would know why Amazon customer comments have more clout than critics in The New Yorker. He would attend an angry town hall meeting or listen to talk radio, and recognize the same tendencies he described in his book.
Recently I had dinner with a friend who is affluent, educated, and a noted wine connoisseur. We were talking about wine critic Robert Parker and other experts, and my friend asserted that he now relies more on wine advice from websites where anyone can post their evaluations of different vintages. And if the mass mentality has taken over wine-tasting, what can we expect from film reviews or rock criticism?
Of course, this rise of mass opinion comes at a cost. For example, music criticism is turning into lifestyle reporting. Even specialist magazines avoid dealing with any technical descriptions of what a performer is doing, and I have a hunch that the less critics know about the structure of music, the more likely they are to succeed today. This same tendency, outlined with precision by Ortega back in 1929, can be seen in numerous other fields where experts once reigned, but have now been replaced by the opinions of the masses.
Strange to say, not all kinds of expertise are ignored nowadays. The same people who denounce expert opinion about movies or music will praise a skilled plumber or car mechanic. The value of blue-collar expertise is accepted without question. The same people who get angry when I make judgments about the skill level of a pianist, would never question my decision to pay more to hire a superior piano tuner. This is a peculiar state of affairs, but very much aligned with the “revolt of the masses.”
Ortega also predicted the close connection between advancing technologies and these new rude attitudes. He devotes an entire chapter to the co-existence of “primitivism and technology.” He understands that the rise of new technological tools gives a global scope to the unformed opinions of people who, in a previous era, would have only focused on what was nearby and familiar. Above all, he marvels at the fact that the “disdain for science as such is displayed with greatest impunity by the technicians themselves.” Or put differently, skill in manipulating a technology (say, Instagram or the iPhone, in our day) has nothing in common with a zeal for facts and empirical evidence. That shocked Ortega, but we encounter it daily on in the web.
I wish Ortega were around nowadays to comment on digital age culture. At one point in The Revolt of the Masses, he complains about a woman who told him “I can’t stand a dance to which less than 800 people have been invited.” So how would the Spanish philosopher respond to the crowd mentality that seeks out viral videos with a hundred million views? How would he evaluate TV reality shows in which the best singers or dancers are determined by the verdict of the masses? What would he think of political judgments shared by the millions in the form of 140-or-fewer-characters tweets?
I can’t do justice to all of this book’s riches in a short article. On almost every page, Ortega addresses some issue that still resonates today—for example, the rise of consumerism; or the possibility for barbarism to flourish in tandem with technology; or the unbalanced specialization which favors science over the humanities; or (in his words) “the loss of prestige of legislative assemblies.” You recognize all of those hot topics, don’t you?
Okay, we encounter these dysfunctional tendencies every day, but Ortega forces us to see them with a different perspective—from the standpoint of “up” versus “down.” Indeed, his book is more valuable for the speculations it will spur in a current-day reader than in the specific situations Ortega addresses. But isn’t that always the measure of a timeless thinker?

Egypt’s Arab Spring Gives Way to Spring of the Patriarch. By Christopher Dickey.

Egypt’s Arab Spring Gives Way to Spring of the Patriarch. By Christopher Dickey. The Daily Beast, January 10, 2014.

Does Prince Charming Really Need to Be Reinvented. By Akash Niklolas.

Does Prince Charming Really Need to Be Reinvented. By Akash Nikolas. The Atlantic, January 8, 2014.

A Tiny Glimmer of Hope Amid the Ruins of Syria. By Gordon Brown.

A tiny glimmer of hope amid the ruins of Syria. By Gordon Brown. Washington Post, January 10, 2014. Also here.