Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Jewish Nation State and Identity

The Declaration of Independence states that Israel is Jewish and democratic in equal measures.  Any law which therefore defines Israel as Jewish above all else (as opposed to Jewish and democratic) makes democracy subservient to faith.

The conflict between religious and secular jurisdiction over issues of personal status is complicated by Israel’s early modern history.   When the new state was born it was less than three years after the defeat of Nazism.  In Israel, the Jewish faith, as a religious institution, was viewed as endangered.  Israel’s secular rulers absolved themselves of any responsibility for issues of personal status by encouraging traditional religious bodies to exercise authority without statutory boundaries.  This sowed the seeds for both the reinvigoration of orthodoxy and its political empowerment.

The state was conflicted - indifferent to religious faith at the same time as it accepted the orthodox stream of Judaism as the only one exercising legitimacy.  The state ignored the abuses religious hegemony created because it was reluctant to become involved in a religious debate.

Any political culture is open to abuse but an inexperienced, immature political culture without a tradition of legal oversight and practical control will be subjected to continuous testing as to the limits of what constitutes legitimate authority.

Once the period of ideologically led consolidation was over (the first 20 to 30 years of independence) what had been understandable “accommodation” in order to help to develop and give strength to state institutions and bureaucracies became state sanctioned corruption.  Transparency is not a welcome participant amongst the political herd. As political movements, all parties naturally saw abuse of political – economic power as a means of asserting and maintaining their ideological legitimacy, however, patronage and personal aggrandizement are all part of a corrupted political establishment.

I recall a group of enthusiastic and idealistic young adults explaining their plans to a ranking member of the government who “knowing what was ‘best’ for them” had no intention of acquiescing to a single point they made.  The arrogance of a patriarchal political culture begets contempt for constituencies because certainty of purpose is central to their political philosophy.  There is no such thing as a transparent back room deal! In a dysfunctional democracy politics is not the art of compromise (the golden mean) but an act of will by an individual or a group exercising control over the rest of us.

A misunderstanding of the nature of democracy is at fault. Democracy is more than “one person one vote.”  If the government fails to support the people they lose faith in government.  An abusive culture is created that exploits tribal identification and within a tribal culture, elites become more important than law (because influence is hierarchical and authoritarian).

To quote Murray Kahl:

“Emerging governments must demonstrate they can resolve problems faced by the citizenry, such as crime, insurrection, general economic growth, secure freedom and the rule of law.”  (And additionally, in Israel’s case:  terrorism and hostile missile activity).

Democracies fail because they do not uphold the nations’ laws, no matter how imperfect those laws may be.

The Declaration of Independence is clear:

  •  Israel is to be a state of Jewish immigration aliyah and of "the ingathering of the exiles." This principle was set forth in legal and practical terms in the Law of Return, passed two years later (1950);
  • Israel is to be a state of development for the benefit of all its inhabitants;
  • Perhaps most importantly, Israel is to be a state based on the fundamentals of freedom, justice and peace, a state in which all the inhabitants will enjoy equality of social and political rights, along with freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.

The document continues: The state will be guided by the principles of justice enunciated by “the prophets of Israel” and it calls for the Arabs to participate in building the state.

The state was founded by secular people but their big idea was imbued with Jewish ethical considerations as well as Jewish historical visions.  Israel’s founders could not have foreseen a future where the states Arabs and the extreme Left would abuse their rights of statehood or that Israel’s external enemies would actively coordinate a campaign with Israel’s internal enemies in order to delegitimize Jewish history and even, to deny Jewish attachment to Jerusalem as diplomatic continuation of the war against Jewish independence.

So Israel can reaffirm the principles of the Declaration of Independence.  It could also act on them in order to demonstrate their relevance.

Israel should attack the racist campaign of delegitimization, in every forum, in every interview and in every debate.   None of the fine words in Israel’s Declaration of Independence are of any consequence if Israel’s diplomats and politicians do not respond to every libel against the state and not just by comparing its actions to its enemies, but also by attacking those in the Muslim world and in liberal-left circles who undermine the principles of the Declaration of Independence.

One of Israel’s former justice ministers (Professor Daniel Friedman) said that “declarative laws don’t have the power to solve theoretical or social disputes” but what he seems to have missed is the whole point of having them in the first place.  They create a framework and a vision for Israel’s legislators to work towards achieving.

Emerging states have a lot to prove.   They must demonstrate they can resolve the issues that confront their nation, equitably.  Issues of identity, unity and protection are all equal in importance and underlying all of them is perception, which governs everything.

Failing states do so because they fail to act on discrimination.  But there is a greater responsibility for minorities to integrate when a national framework already exists. Integration does not necessarily mean assimilation. And because discrimination in society can be from both sides what it also does not mean is separate development and most definitely what it does not mean is separate laws that run counter to the national ethos.

There is a difference between civil rights, which remain equal and national rights that can be synonymous with a divisive tribal identity.   There will be people who argue that to survive in the Near East you must adopt the attitude and behaviors of the environment in which you live. So a toxic culture of bigotry is acceptable?  This may well be the Arab way but it goes against everything Zionism believes in.  Herzl’s Zionism envisioned Jew and Arab living in one nation, equal and prosperous.  Israel’s identity as a Jewish state does not negate that vision.

Israel’s identity as a Jewish state is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.  Israel’s symbols, its flag, its education system, its day of rest on Saturday, all these things are central to the identity of its citizens even if they are not personally central to an individual’s minority identity.

It is here that government in Israel has failed spectacularly.   By not involving itself in religious law it has created sectarian religious conflict; by not imposing sanction on those who agitate against Israeli Arab identification with the country of their birth (Israel) the government has helped to poison the issue of national identity.

As a consequence of the proposed Nation State Law Arabic would have lost its status as one of the two official languages of Israel.  This ignores the reality of Arab culture.  Most Arabs are fluent in Hebrew so to remove its status is provocative and discriminates without providing any sensible justification.  70% of Israel’s Arabs describe themselves as Palestinian - only 30% describe themselves as Israeli.  Bullying will not reverse those statistics.  What will reverse them is working together to create a unified nation.  The Arab parties are racist parties which exist to play the Palestinian identity card and therefore to maintain separation (apartheid).  The Arab political parties are impediments to Israeli unity.

No Israeli politician has had the courage to tackle this violent and bigoted opposition to integration.   The irony is that those parties vying for the title of “Zionist” completely miss the point because ethnic integration is at the heart of the Zionist enterprise.

Turkey suppresses the Kurdish language as does Syria.  There is little to no room for minority recognition anywhere in the Near-East.   But not just in the Muslim world.  If Putin needed a pretext for his invasion of Crimea it was the removal of Russian as one of Ukraine’s official languages.  It was a decision that Ukraine recognized in hindsight as disastrous and it has been reversed.

The final impediment to Israeli national unity is foreign interference in its internal affairs.  Since the establishment of the State of Israel nations have worked without respite to undermine the legitimacy and the identity of the Jewish State. NGO’s (non-government organizations) continue to receive significant foreign funding through mainly western governments and western churches. It is they that have actively sought to delegitimize the Zionist and Jewish agendas.  Aaron David Miller describes the Arab states as “nothing more than tribes with flags.” In Israel, foreign funding has been used to encourage that tribalism and fragmentation.

Jewish history is being denied, denigrated and damned. Instead of demanding the cessation of subversive foreign funding Israel should regulate it.  As happens in the USA, any foreign funding must go along with formal registration of any recipient organization, as the local agency of a foreign entity.  Any activity promoting disunity must be actively discouraged.

But more important than even this issue, in the long term a nation needs a vision to survive. The USA has its exceptionalism through which its capitalist version of democracy has spread globally – Iran has its theocratic vision of a world ruled by and for the Islamic faithful. It informs and instructs the direction of its foreign policy.

What is depressing about the Israeli elections for the 20th Knesset?  There is no self-evident vision; there are no fundamental principles being extolled by the Zionist camp.  The talent is wholly missing from the political arena.

The Jewish people are too often harangued for being either too legalistic or too philosophic and in both cases it is meant to say that Jews are not anchored in the real world.  It seems that Israel’s politicians are so cynically anchored in the real world that they are incapable of working for the common good.  The multiplicity of parties zealously guarding their own parochial privileges are incapable of sublimating their own crude desires for the greater cause that is served by promulgating a vision of unity and amity.

That is the depressing issue that Israel’s more attuned voters had to confront when voting for the Twentieth Knesset on Tuesday 17th March 2015.

God Save Israel from her politicians.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Israel, Class Warfare, and our Islamic Inheritance

Following the fall of communism the European Left was largely discredited.  Yet there was little recognition that most people are only comfortable with a middle ground in their every-day existence.  The politics of envy that communism exploited could no longer attract a mass following unless it could surround itself with disgruntled followers who could be convinced that an “us and them” scenario still existed. The issue was not that poverty had ceased to exist or that injustice was no longer rife in the world but that in only a few kinds of society was the possibility for improvement so stifled as to create mass dissatisfaction.

80 per cent of people living in the Western world are now classified as belonging to the middle class and the rest of the world is rapidly joining them, thus making the pool of malcontents to exploit working class dissatisfaction too small to pose a significant threat to societies.  There is an issue here. We should care for the poor more than we do but the Left no longer enjoys a constituency of limitless potential to inflict damage on the establishment. It is part of the establishment and very comfortable at that.  It has not created a political debate that would animate a significant minority of the population to force a momentum for change in order to help alleviate the suffering of the marginalized poor.  And most of the poor are protected by some sort of safety net.  It is not that people are not vulnerable but a critical mass of people who need our help, even where they do exist do not automatically turn to the Left as their savior.

We do not possess clear cut definitions to tidily fit a Marxist revolutionary model.  Class definitions based on social identity and economic capacity are no longer necessarily connected.  Social class is relatively stable and defined by cultural affinity while socioeconomic class is far more fluid.  The lower classes barely exist compared with the past other than as small marginalized groups whose problems are complex and not easily fixed.  The working classes often earn far more than their professional class ‘rivals’.  The working classes are likely a sub-set of the middle classes as both an economic and a socioeconomic group.

The lower classes have been replaced by an underclass of resource poor families and individuals and this group now includes members of the middle classes – their common denominator is their poverty but not their education or even their social background.  The rapid growth in food banks attests to the issue of resources as being the most immediate problem. There is little debate about how to solve the unemployment issue in society.  Civil society has failed to confront the ethical question behind what is a manageable, acceptable level of unemployment or under-employment.  Instead, society treats the unemployed as a statistic, as an economic lever that is useful for manipulating wage policy or as an inevitable aspect of any economic cycle.   The reality for humanity is that it remains as it has always been, a damaging cyst eating away at the vitality of every society.

The left clings to the tired cliches of nineteenth and twentieth century envy populism to sell an anachronistic product whose starting point is predicated on encouraging conflict and division.   But today, those issues are further complicated by religious extremism.

The countries with most pronounced inequality are unequal for all of the traditional reasons such as structural deficiency which fails to protect the weak from the strong, tribal domination and social stratification which permanently traps the poor in hierarchical disadvantage.

If in previous centuries the poor were trapped by their powerlessness, modern weaponry has changed the usual outcomes of enslavement or persecution but it has also created the conditions for unending warfare and ever increasing numbers of casualties.  Relative advantage is never assured but the balance of power has shifted from the state to anyone able to buy modern weapons and attract followers.

The next change from the past is that many of the disenfranchised poor are in the Muslim world which paradoxically contains the world’s greatest concentration of material wealth. However in this case, class tensions are a product of ethnic and tribal rule resulting in rising income inequality and increasing unemployment with vast numbers of people simply shut out from any possibility for a future not mired in extreme poverty because they are not part of an empowered group.   Egypt and Turkey, two of the largest Muslim nations, are, in particular, guilty of this divide. It has created the political conditions required for revolutionary change to occur. Except that while prior to the late nineteenth century, movements were reactionary and fundamentalist, from the late nineteenth century and onwards they were ‘revolutionary’ - a mixture of secular populism and in the Muslim world, Islamic populism.  After many decades this mix has been proven to be successful in rallying a wider group of disaffected and marginalized fighters but as ineffective as previous movements in solving the issue of class-tribal inequality.  Islamic populism overcame its secular rivals by creating a social movement that at least in theory supported community, social justice, religious authority and a return to glory days of Islamic and Arab domination. And the religious movements learnt the lessons of past demagogues.

Historically successful movements in the Islamic world were horrendously ruthless in subjugating their enemies and conquering their neighbors.  The Islamic State (IS or Daesh) as well as those movements that preceded them (such as Al Qaeda) can quote the Koran to justify total rejection of modern civilization in favor of extreme acts of violence and brutality.  Other faiths are condemned for having moved on from their early history. The peculiar nature of Islamic society is that its civil society has never been separated from its religious infrastructure (except in Turkey during the Kemalist period spanning 1923 and 2010) and so the faithful justify everything by claiming fidelity to the violence and barbarism of Islam’s Seventh Century of the Common Era (A.D.) foundation.  Classic concepts of cultural and physical conquest are based on ferocity, fear and theft; it represents a rational assessment of historical Islamic precedents of conquest.   Slaughter everyone who resists you and the next area you invade will either fight you to the death or will collapse in fear, more likely the latter than the former.  Islamic history has glorified this strategy and it has nearly always worked. 

The Arab Spring truly became a winter of discontent (and bloodshed).  The only way the extreme left could justify its existence is by allying itself with a Pan-Arab kindred spirit.  And that is frightening because, given what we now know of their brutal suppression of opposition, this partnership places the extreme Left squarely alongside the Nazi political continuum. The kindred spirit to which they aspire to cooperate in “revolutionary resistance to Western society” is Muslim.

If pan-Arabism and Islamism are both viewed as progressive kindred spirits then their religion is untouchable, beyond criticism.  In their Manichean world Israel is a malformation that must be excised from the region for the greater (Muslim-Arab) good.  This is the well-spring from which all Jews are damned, unless that is, they are Jewish Uncle Toms, the professional anti-Semites who wield religious identification as a sword to strike down their coreligionists.  The ideological basis for this antisemitism is as ruthless as it is consistent with the historical record of brutality they try to conceal.

Fascism is a movement that aggressively denies its foes any voice in protest against their persecution.  It is dependent on regimentation and suppression of contrary ideological positions.  Albert Camus, writing in “The Rebel” says that “Fascism is an act of contempt. Inversely, every form of contempt, if it intervenes in politics, prepares the way for, or establishes, fascism.” And Leon Trotsky (on National Socialism in 1933) “Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside the twentieth century the tenth or the thirteenth (century)….”

In its desperate need to prove that it is still relevant the Left has moved towards the hinterlands of political activism by its unquestioning embrace of Arab - Islamic causes. Though Islamofascism threatens to further compartmentalize the Middle East into mutually intolerant ethno-fascist cantons, the Left continues to drift further into a democratically fatal accommodation with them.

Israel will one day have to make peace with bad people.  But it must not compromise on either the issue of lack of trust or the ongoing incitement, which negates any efforts to construct a solution that serves the cause of peace - for both sides.   Prior hostility is the root cause of present day racism-antisemitism and it predates Zionism.  Western ‘liberal’ fascism has collaborated with antisemitism for too long and it makes the task of achieving peace all the more difficult. This is because that hostility to Jews in Europe as well as in parts of America makes trust almost impossible to prove.

The credibility of political fascism is based on the assumption that demanding a blood sacrifice will placate the butchers for whom 1,400 years of blood and conquest has only created greater enthusiasm for killing, not less.  The theory of appeasement has never worked but its enthusiastic supporters do not stop trying because they never have to make the sacrifice.  Where time and again it was the Jewish peoples “turn” for sacrifice it is now Israel’s turn.  So appeasement is justified by first preparing the public.   The assumption that the Jewish people will be coerced into placing their collective heads into the gluttonous Islamic lions jaw, and that their probable sacrifice will assuage the blood lust of a faith for whom cultural conquest and physical domination are intrinsically theologically fused into a single vision of a world ruled by them and for them only - is fundamentally flawed.  Appeasement never works.  But society is only accustomed to a flawed status-quo where we scapegoat others to compensate for our failures.

The Islamic inheritance is not entirely the responsibility of its Muslim followers.  But prejudice and intolerance, theological and political violence are a historical part of the Islamic heritage that helps to explain the flood of Western Muslims to Daesh (IS).  The ethics of decapitating ones enemy with a rusty knife is not part of current Western discourse nor is it part of OUR civilized behavior.  To outgrow twentieth century fascism the Muslim world needs to have experienced shame, not humiliation.  Humiliation is what it feels because of a perceived “War on Islam.”  The secular order understands and condones attempts at appeasement because it does not attach any importance to an Islamic threat to that order, at least not in the Western World.

Shame is something altogether different.   In this century alone, millions of people have died so that those on the Left can feel comfortable not facing up to their own ideological prejudices, myopia and historic failures. Maintaining silence and ignorance about Islamic theological outpourings sanitizes the crimes of the Left as well as those of Islam and the absence of shame encourages and facilitates further atrocities. There can be no respite from terrorism and no movement towards peaceful co-existence anywhere in the world while Israel and Jews are demonized for the sake of the appeasers, not even for “Peace in our Time.”

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Guardian Newspaper embraces Antisemitic Conspiracies

When I read the article about leaked South African documents referring to an Israeli conspiracy to dry up the Nile my first reaction was not skepticism or laughter but outrage.  Put aside the logistics for such an undertaking. (The River Nile is the longest river in the world at 4,300 miles and is shared by eleven countries).

I even understood the “secret” report that emanated from South Africa.  Before the end of the Apartheid regime the population of South Africa was officially twenty-two million people with Whites representing 27% of the total. Post apartheid that total population doubled to forty-four million with the white group being reduced to just 13.6% of the total.  Apparently no government had ever seen the need for an effective population census. Preventing civil war or a Zimbabwean style economic and social collapse has meant accommodating prejudice and superstition, in spite of South Africa’s recent history.  Despite both Arab (Muslim) and Western nations leading the top ten countries with economic influence in Apartheid era South Africa and though Israel had very minor economic interests in South Africa during the apartheid era (well below the top ten export nations) I would even expect an antisemitic narrative to be a predictable outcome.  It is easier to damn a minor irritant for its imagined crimes than it is to confront a major export partner.  What surprises me is that Israel’s Mossad would trust South Africa’s intelligence service sufficiently to interact with it.

This latest story is reminiscent of Egyptian and other Arab conspiracies that were laughable, for instance the migrating bird that was “really” an Israeli spy, at least according to the quality Arab press.  And who can forget the sharks that were also accused of working for the Mossad?  We expect crackpot journalism to be the hallmark of the fascist press. A story about drying up the River Nile with genetically modified Israeli weeds (read “Jewish” if you really want to dive into the sordid world of conspiracy journalism) sounds like the South African Intelligence Service creating its own version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (which was largely the work of the Russian Secret Police).

I expect the British newspaper, The Guardian, to be antisemitic. There exists a longstanding tradition in British society that is hostile towards any display of difference, as a result of which the urge to conform is enormous.  One result is to foster a characteristic curiosity and disdain for difference that may explain Britain’s fascination with eccentricity.  At the same time, the repressive urge to conform has meant that successive generations of immigrant communities eventually did assimilate into British society.  Not by subsuming their peculiar group characteristics but by culturally “vanishing” (assimilation, not integration).

The Jewish community has mostly survived through the infusion of successive waves of Jewish immigration and not, by natural population growth.

That intolerance of difference has been legislatively marginalized but it has also created ghettos that are virtually untouchable by law enforcement and are therefore immune to any of the normal pressures that society would apply to conform.  Instead of nurturing a multicultural society, anti-racist legislation hot-housed mutually antagonistic communities, disabling any pressures that might have facilitated reconciliation.

A simple example is the anti-racist legislation that was too hurriedly passed in reaction to the Muslim terror attacks on the London transportation system that murdered 52 civilians and injured over 700 more people on the 7th of July 2005). 

Nationwide, teachers were exposed to potential accusations of racism, without provocation. The immediate effect was to silence any legitimate criticism because of the threat posed by that latent, ever present threat.  A teacher could be accused of racism and faced suspension from work for a period of up to 12 months while the allegations were investigated.  Even if all charges were subsequently found to be false the result would be that your career was ended.  In Education, the legislation helped to create a perception that there is no smoke without fire.   The Salem Witch Trials of over three centuries ago spring to mind – how ironic that legislation meant to protect everyone from being persecuted was exploited by Muslims to terrorize the rest of us.  In one Muslim dominated school the Imam who taught the Koran to Muslim students told of one child who threw their Koran across the room and was immediately turned into a Monkey. This evokes a Muslim antisemitic myth. The science teacher who confronted this imam (remarkably, all the students believed him) and challenged the story very quickly understood that to question this story was to invite allegations of racism.

This is more than simply an unintended consequence of badly crafted legislation.  Instead of protecting us all it has created an atmosphere of fear and censorship which is exploited by and insulates minority bigots who correctly understand the virtue that inheres to a group placed in a position of privilege. Being a protected minority they can virtually do no wrong.  I would be surprised if, because of this legislation, recent, massive, sex abuse scandals involving Muslim pedophile groups were not encouraged by the reluctance of authorities to investigate Muslim wrong-doing.

The political Left has never had to come to terms with the original sin of its creation. Its antisemitism and its genocidal history arose out of its over-exuberant ideological intolerance of competing worldviews and its dogmatic, literalist assertion of Right against all others. Again, this perhaps explains bad legislation as deliberate, ideologically crafted social Darwinism.

The British Left has always been comfortable within its polite antisemitic skin.  Jews who practiced obsequious self-flagellation did so because of an ethnic (religious) affiliation few ever attempted to familiarize themselves with.  They were held up as exemplars of what a ‘good’ Jew looks and behaves like.  Being honorary members of the British anti-Zionist Left made them almost accepted.  That societal pressure to conform to a barely concealed undercurrent of antisemitism exposes its prejudice when the mainstream Jewish community and their Christian supporters are less than silent.

The Guardian Newspaper is similar to the New York Times in enunciating a philosophy around human conflict that is unique in its focus on Israeli “original sin”.  The philosophy is summed up with the explanation that the Paper will not address Palestinian racism in any of its writing about the conflict. By its acceptance of an exclusive anti-Zionist, anti-nationalist agenda the racism of Israel’s opponents is dismissed by making the claim that when “the Palestinians” have their own state the Paper will change its attitude towards antisemitism.

This buys into an immoral intellectual argument that if you uncritically support a bigot and a murderer they will cease with both practices once you satisfy all of their demands.

It places the victim in the insane position of being entirely to blame for everything.

The Guardian, through its uncritical support for an anti-Israel conspiracy has bought into the vein of similar writings reminiscent of medieval blood libels, rumors of well poisonings and the spreading of the Black Death. 

So I return to the story of Judeo-Zionists (the Mossad) attempting to dry up the worlds longest river – the Nile. That a specific allegation can be used to prepare the ground for an Arab attack on Israel (which following on from the inevitable annihilation of the state’s Zionist inhabitants through the use of non-conventional weapons) would be justified by reference to a potential attack on the Nile.

In this case, the Left truly has become the Nazi Left.

Israel is at war with the Guardian Newspaper. It is apparent that Israel is oblivious to this fact. That story about Israel’s mythical technological endeavors demonizes all Israel and her supporters.

This is not just a Freedom of Speech issue. This story is not “just” another hoax. We know that once a story is published through a reputable newspaper website, it becomes universally available for dissemination.  It cannot be removed from the internet even if it is withdrawn, with apology, from the Guardian website. 

When the facade of a semblance of diversity exists it can be difficult to respond to any threat that materializes with uniform action because inevitably, complexity requires a nuanced approach. The Guardian Newspaper has presented itself as hegemonic in its opposition to Israeli statehood, as hateful in its approach towards Jewish self-determination in Israel and as wholly uninterested in any truth applicable to a Jewish State.

War with a hegemonic adversary is straight forward. The enemy is identified, unambiguous and promoting an agenda that is without mercy.  Israel is at war with the fascist and antisemitic Guardian Newspaper and it is time it took the written war as seriously as it takes the hot war against Hamas and similar Nazi ideologies such as Islamic State (Daesh), Hezbollah and the Islamic State of Iran.

The People of the Book seem to be reluctant to internalize the lessons of our recent history. Sticks and Stones can break our bones, but with words begins the slaughter.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Israel and the Enemies of Peace (and Humanity)

If it is to succeed as a Jewish multi-ethnic society, Israel as a social-democracy must marginalize and prevent from appearing attractive, any group that is radically theocratic or radically secular - the fringes must be prevented from mainstreaming their beliefs.  This is the challenge of all democracies and when successful, the best way to defund them. In his new book about political order and political decay Francis Fukuyama says that “natural human sociability is based on kin selection and reciprocal altruism.” Radical movements are not interested in mutuality. They are only ever interested in tearing down the edifice of society and rebuilding it in their own embittered and openly hostile image.  Their vision is dependent on a culture of alienation, envy and “us and them” competition.  They do not like human beings but see all of us as sheep, to be led.  For them, free will is a fantasy and a dangerous one at that.

If the ideal is democratic progressivism (belief in change, progress, improvement or reform) then Socialism, Islamism and Pan-Arabism represent its reactionary antithesis because their twin original sins are first, their enthusiastic adoption of intimidation and fear to silence their enemies and second, their acceptance of the principle of violent overthrow of the established order.  They are the ultimate fascists. Their belief system is predicated on silencing contrary opinions; embracing terrorism and destruction as the means to their end.

For some, the compelling argument for revolutionary change is to study Stalinism or Wahhabism. They view murderous excess as a necessary consequence of revolutionary upheaval, dismissing any disagreeable ethical complications as a mere detail of history; or if pushed, an eschatological necessity.  Their contemporary apostles are Judith Butler, Noam Chomsky, Edward Said and Yusuf al-Qaradawi, all, contemporary exponents of terror.

The Jewish polity was dragged into conflict with its neighbors by their opponent’s reactionary Hitlerite response to Jewish self-determination in the Holy Land.  Israel did not willingly march as one towards war.  It was an Arab and Muslim attempted genocide of the Jews of Palestine in 1948 that began all the wars that have ensued since 1948.  And only a fool would accept the false propaganda message that the murderous rhetoric of pre- (and post) 1948 Arab Muslim leaders was no more than a rallying cry to unite the Arab masses.  History has proven that those that start the slaughter, particularly when urged on by history and faith do not stop midway.  Apostles of death gather acolytes to their cause and their enthusiasm often not only exceeds their own but once started is rarely sated.

Israel was dragged into war in 1948; repeated overtures towards Arab compatriots were rebuffed but the killer blow was not Jewish terror but the flight of the Arab leadership to their mansions in the various Arab capitals. It left the Arab Fedayeen not just leaderless but at the mercy of scavenging Arab gangs and paramilitary units whose lust for booty left them unconcerned for the identity of their victims.

The first wave Arab elite fled Israel prior to the 1947 United Nations vote.  They fled to the comfort of their homes in Damascus, Cairo, Beirut and Amman.  The second wave left with the 1947 vote.  In 1922 one and a half million Greeks "were exchanged" by Turkey for half a million European Turks. After World War Two some twelve million ethnic Germans fled or were driven out from Eastern Europe with at least half a million of those German refugees dying along the way.  Only the Arab nations were happy to sacrifice their refugee brothers and sisters to intergenerational indigence in camps they patrolled to prevent their escape thus incubating a captive population of embittered prisoners, abandoned by their fellow Muslims and fellow Arabs as political pawns in their war against the Jews. While they cried crocodile tears they ransomed future generations to wars that were as unnecessary as they were without possible benefit to the Arab nations that waged them.  The only reason to not absorb their fellow Arabs was to fulfill an Arab Muslim vision which has always been one of overthrow, conquest and annihilation of its Jewish foe and their non-Arab neighbors.   When Israel vacated Gaza in 2005 American Jewish donors purchased the Israeli greenhouse industry that was based in Gaza and handed them over to the Palestinian Authority so that the Gaza economy would have a good beginning for growth.  The Palestinians destroyed those greenhouses and used them instead as military complexes that concealed their tunnels.  They were confident that the non-Muslim world would continue to fund their attacks on the Jewish state no matter what.

The Jewish-Israeli vision has moved from accommodating difference to an internalized understanding that their implacable Muslim enemy can never be trusted.

An image, posted on Fatah’s official Facebook page on the occasion of Fatah’s 50th anniversary (on the last day of 2014) depicted a mound of skulls in the foreground, marked with Jewish stars, against a backdrop of a Fatah flag and a semi-automatic rifle.  According to J.A.C Brown (Techniques of Persuasion) “The first task of the propagandist is to catch his audience’s attention….a considerable period of time may have to be spent in building up a receptive frame of mind.”   One does not need to look too deeply into the purpose behind serving up such an image on Fatah’s official internet page.  Given the horrific cruelty of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria the banality of such images says much about the true vision of Palestine’s rank and file, not just their leaders.  Rationalization (of a course of action), Identification (of an enemy), Conformity (to an image), Repetition (to focus the faithful to a desired outcome) are all part of the propagandists arsenal.  Even if challenged and removed, the image has served its primary purpose.

Given the history and ongoing propaganda / terror war of Hamas, the Palestinians and Arab imperialist nations there is but one inescapable truth and that is that far from being progressive, the Palestinians and their supporters are reactionary bigots who are incapable of sharing anything other than a violent and eternally acquisitive vision.  The logical extension of this conclusion is that their supporters in the church – especially those who validate replacement theology as a means to delegitimize the Jewish faith and the only Jewish nation state, cannot ever legitimately claim to be the natural heirs to progressivism but are, in reality, reactionary, supporters of Arab revanchism; and dare I say it, their antizionism is no more than a poor excuse for their recidivist antisemitism. They buttress their cause with ready-made slogans about their enemy (us) and familiarize their supporters with lies so that their consciences will be salved when they destroy us. Their intimidation leads to censorship. True to the principles of fascism they demonize their opponent in order to silence them (us).

Israel and its supporters continue to refuse to fight a propaganda war even though their enemies see the propaganda war as essential to destroying us.  They refuse to fight fire with fire.  They fail to highlight the baseless hate that feeds their enemies passions; they do not hold up the Jewish-Israeli-Zionist vision against the not so public vision of their murderous foes with all their terrible cruelty and fundamentalist inhumanity.   Zionism, by its utopian nature was na├»ve nevertheless its founding vision remains as always, the only truly progressive way forward for the Near-East.  Israel’s muscular approach or worse, its indifference to a widening circle of enemies in the greater non-Arab world will need to be addressed in advance of the next war simply because the alternative is an endless cycle of violent confrontation.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Human Rights and Geographic Variability

It is only right to debate the correct balance between electronic surveillance and civil rights. Protection of the individual as a cultural principle has not kept up with individual rights.  Pornography, crime and terror including providing instructions and targets for acts of terrorism and enticing the vulnerable away from a secure environment can all now be efficiently communicated through email and the internet.  Personal choice is not analogous with our duty to protect the weak.  I am less concerned with peoples’ freedom to conceal their personal misdemeanors and indiscretions than with government’s abuse of that personal information.  Put more simply, if you have something to be ashamed of, don’t put it on record, in any form.  On the other side of the information paradigm the proper controls must be put in place to ensure no-one can abuse private information held in secret.

The social media are abused in literally millions of postings and comments created every day.   It is as effortless to lie as it is to tell the truth and because truth and lies are easily manipulated the electronic media have become no better than vehicles for grotesque and prejudiced acts of ego gratification.

Basic human rights can never be geographically variable or historically justified; not in the name of multiculturalism nor in the name of political correctness. Rape is the same violation of (usually) women’s bodies in Sweden and Britain as it is in DR Congo or in Egypt. The ongoing revolutions in Venezuela and Cuba do not justify their specious human rights records nor does it place them above their pet hate, America.  If words such as “integrity” and “ethics” have any meaning at all they have to be applied in equal measure.

For example: We should send packing the tens of thousands of Chinese students enriching our universities, refunding their fees to them in full when we send them home. Of course the exorbitant fees they pay enrich our universities and contribute to the bloated salaries of all those lecturers who teach all those foreign students. 

But China enslaves the masses and is the global sweatshop for the Western worlds’ cheap consumer products (as well as the source of most of our even cheaper counterfeit products).  Instead of crying crocodile tears for the poor foreign worker we could solve our unemployment problems but it would cost us hundreds if not thousands of pounds, dollars, euros or yen extra to each and every one of us, every year by returning production to western nations.  It would be the ethical and equitable thing to do.  Basic human rights are not negotiable, nor geographically variable; their omission is not excused by reference to historical circumstances.  Understanding does not discharge responsibility in the present because of the past.

We should boycott all goods made in Pakistan and not just for its sweatshops but also for its inter-generational support for terrorism.  Similarly, Qatari oil is not a good reason for giving Qatar free rein to oppress its workers of whom at least one per day dies in Qatar building the infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The Islamic Republic of Mauritania has a population of 3.5 million people.  Some 10 to 20 per cent of them are enslaved.  So warm feelings of self-righteous anger, when directed at a small and economically powerless nation like Israel are apparently rights of the intellectual coward and the ethical fascist for whom inconvenient truths are best served up selectively.

We are living in an age of fear and irrationality where those who create that fear hold sway over us – see how easy it was for North Korea to stop the nationwide screening of a movie it did not like (until  Sony Corporation was shamed into making a face-saving compromise).  The USA is supposed to be the most powerful, influential nation on the earth.  Look at Islamic censorship, its control of the UN.

According to the United Nations, between 15 March 2011 and October 2014 over 200,000 people were killed in the Syrian Civil War.  The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) placed the total at between 200,000 and 282,000 men, women and children murdered up to December 2014.

How many deaths were there in the Arab-Israeli conflict?  Between 1920 and the present, 115,311 people were killed.  So Switzerland calls a meeting of the Geneva Convention for only the third time in its history.  The UK, France, Germany and another 123 signatory states to the Fourth Geneva Convention assembled in order to call out a perpetrator, Israel and it was Israel they called out on the other two occasions.

Ben-Dror Yemini expressed this ethical confusion simply in explaining that “anti-Zionism, in essence, is not a struggle in support of Palestinian rights, but a struggle instead against Jewish rights.”

Human Rights and Geographic Variability exist because we live in a political world.  Our politicians and academics, our journalists and our charity workers, our bureaucrats and our social activists are human beings – racists, prejudiced and guided by ego.  We give them far too much credit for altruism or for intelligence.  They are frightened of controls that will limit their choices and if it means limiting ours to keep theirs they will embrace populism and censorship.

The only thing separating them from us is that we are playing by their rules and until we stop playing by their rules we can only ever be their victims.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Art as Representation of Society and the Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Art celebrates the aesthetic achievements of Civilization.

I have visited the Israel Museum every time I came to Israel, at least since the 1980’s.

My mother was always perplexed by the joy I experienced visiting yet another museum.  But I always regarded the Israel museum as an old friend; familiar and comforting, like a close relative to whom I could identify with pride. But not anymore (I will explain why).

My high school education did not include art.  I can barely reproduce a stick man (or woman) and my photographic efforts are inevitably blurred. If art is universal, it is also accessible to all who seek it out without need for an art degree or an art critic to tell us why something is worth viewing.  Art courses may enhance art appreciation but are not a necessity.  I will add one caveat to my previous statement by the following illustration:

I am an active person and I do not need a public gym to keep fit. That said, when I was introduced to the treadmill, at my peak of physical fitness I managed to achieve the giddying speed of five or even six miles per hour (mph). It is because of that experience of running nowhere that I can appreciate both the effort and the sheer will of those athletes who run a four minute mile (15 mph) or a marathon, which they complete by running at nearly 13 mph or 22 kph for two hours.  Now that compares favorably to my unsustainable and paltry effort!

So while one does not need to be an athlete to appreciate athletic achievement, I can understand how some things enhance our appreciation of a subject. Nevertheless, art is universal and should not require extensive notes to explain it.

That view may well be simplistic but I suspect one of, if not the main issue afflicting contemporary society, is confusion.  We have laws that apply (but not universally), we are educated to believe in equality which is only selectively applied.  We are bombarded with messages to fuel our aspirations. Those same aspirations drive the never-ending commercialization of our culture and our dreams.  Dreaming drives progress but it is also exploited by the unscrupulous, to create misery. 

If art has a purpose it is three-fold:  to inform, to agitate or calm our emotions and to create a functional space.

The problem I have with the renovated Israel Museum is that it has ceased to be an institution with a coherent identity.  The museum has fine art, it has applied art and it has everything else.  The mundane has been elevated to a position it does not deserve to occupy. The museum has Rembrandt's and rocks, Picasso's and pillows, Van Gogh’s and videos.  It has modern art, photography and film; typewriters, chairs, butterflies and books.  It does not make sense.  The museums “three year expansion and renewal project was designed to enhance visitor experience of the Museum’s art, architecture, and surrounding landscape.”  (Israel museum website) The museums $100-million renovation project increased the museum’s architectural footprint by approximately 15%. It included a major reconfiguration of the three main collection wings.

An unintended consequence of the reorganization was that it created a muddled archaeological envelope that betrays the strength of the overall collection, a diminution of the available hanging space for fine art and a confusion of compartmentalized artistic styles that jars the nerves instead of harmoniously flowing into adjacent areas.   The entire upper floor contains a desolation of space that instead of adding to the architectural integrity of the whole creates a meaningless, misshapen void filled in with temporary exhibits which only contribute to spatial anarchy and artistic discord.

At this point, let me explain my understanding of ‘art.’ I published “Art and The Decline of Society” on this website on the 13th of June 2012.

I wrote:  “Art and poetry co-exists magically through the enunciation of light and color, shade and silhouettes through the interpretation of images,” and “what defines a great work of Art is inspiration, technical ability and skill.”

Part of the problem is that we have confused democracy with meritocracy and a classless society with no class at all.  Art is interesting.  It conveys a message, not just spatial awareness. The creative process enhances the viewers’ experience because he or she interacts emotionally even on a subliminal level. The result is visual as well as emotional.  If ‘high’ art is elitist it is only so because it costs us to view it (but if that is true, sport and theater are even more 'inaccessible' than art).  I can never own a Renoir or a Rodin but I can view them both at a good museum. Art inspires us.  I may not agree that Rothko was great and I may or may not appreciate his theory of color induction but to see a group of his canvases hanging on a wall, on their own, is still sublime even if I cannot define the  reason or use big words  to describe  my emotional response  to  his artistic creations.

Art is reflexive and high art does not need me to possess a second or third degree (or even a first in art appreciation) in order to be moved by it.

The previous incarnation of the Israel Museum was allegedly an unfocused and sequential mishmash (nonsense).  The intent of the renewal project was to create an aesthetic journey that was logical and unhurried. In this it failed. 

I recall that when, at the end of July 2010 the museum reopened after three and a half years of disruption and closures, the hoard from Nahal Mishmar (Cave of the Treasure) was no longer on show. In its place was a selection of mace heads, scepters and crowns. Instead of celebrating a unique, world class collection we got a few beautiful bits and pieces of copper. The move was clearly criticized because the museum put out a general statement that its policy was not to display the breadth of its collections but a selection only.

And herein lies the problem. The Israel Museum has no more than an average sized living room area dedicated to its excellent collection of Japanese art (and an electronic searchable database that is broken).  The Israel Museum has a wonderful collection of maps; a large collection of prints by both Picasso and Escher but there are no rooms dedicated to any works of art from these collections.  Jacques Lipchitz’s maquettes are no longer displayed.  In fact few sculptures are viewed internally and the Billy Rose Art (Sculpture) Garden is a tired, scattered and somewhat limp display which now seems to attract, in the main, modernist installations.  Few are creatively inspiring.  An upside down tree denuded of its leaves cannot be compared favorably to a Bourdelle, Calder or a Maillol.

If art expresses our ordinariness what does that say about the aspirations we share in society? Much of the contemporary art market is a pastiche of incomprehensible mediocrity produced by artists who are devoid of talent or precision of purpose.  Are we supposed to draw our individual and collective inspiration from this? To aspire to be great we must strive to produce great art and while great art may share the stage with mediocrity it is to our extinction that it beckons.

James S. Snyder is only the second director of the Israel Museum (founded in 1965).   From 1986 to 1996 James Snyder served as deputy director of The Museum of Modern Art, New York and from 1996 he has been the Israel Museum director.   His natural passion is modern art.

Israel needs a separate museum of modern art.  The Tel Aviv Museum of Art has a geographically distinct gallery for displaying radical interpretations of what could loosely be described as ‘art.’ The last exhibition I saw there was of larger than life photos of naked men with particular visual focus on their penises.  Hopefully that exhibition would have been even too radical for Israel’s national museum but a 50 cm by 70 cm Gelatin silver print with the word “LIFE” centered across the display area “in a sober sans-serif typeface” also approaches my idea of what constitutes vulgarity.  A table, four meters long with a boulder underneath it may tax the technical talents of museum staff (to prevent said stone from crashing through the floor and crushing unsuspecting visitors on the floor below), it may even count as what is loosely defined as installation art but it is not art that by classic definition can aspire to stand the test of time.

A national museum should express both pride and confidence in the future.  I should leave satiated, not frustrated. While collecting is an act of ego, a donation to the nation is an act of affirmation and national self-confidence. What a sad indictment of Israel is the current museum campus. The Israel Museum should stop trying to be world class; mediocrity of ambition accompanies a mediocre vision.