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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 naïve 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.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Holocaust Remembrance Day and British Press Antisemitism

Two incidents occurred that undermine the claim that Britain has a quality press.  Unless, that is, we redefine the concept of quality as being “news built on the sophistication of propaganda employed to further a popular stream of thought; the replacement of truth with cant being the single, most important attribute in a journalists  possession.”

Both incidents were connected to Holocaust Remembrance day. 

When assumptions are made that link past events to current events then it is of no consequence that the linkage is only implied. Links rapidly create facts. The essence of propaganda is that you decide on your message and then stick to it.  It is unimportant that there is no connection between the two events. Constant repetition creates a subliminal linkage that becomes hardwired into our consciousness no matter how spurious that linkage may be.  Making a false connection is the essence of the propagandists’ science.

The two incidents were: the BBC’s “The Big Question” hosted by Nicky Campbell and Sky News’s interview by Adam Boulton with Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mervis.

The BBC is particularly adept at cleverly manipulating audience membership and stage-managing the timing of comments made by its participants.  Sky News’s anchor uses both imagery and pithy, simple connections in order to establish truisms.

The beauty in establishing a truism is that ideas which differ from the accepted orthodoxy, when placed in competition with the accepted belief are not easily repudiated and invariably, effortlessly ignored or dismissed.

The first assault on the truth occurred in Nicky Campbell’s programme, The Big Question (which describes itself as concerned with ‘faith and ethics’). He asked whether it was time to lay the Holocaust ‘to rest?’  But within that question was also the idea that the Shoah was neither unique nor special.  In the twentieth century humanity also permitted other major crimes against humanity to occur without interference:

·        The Rwanda genocide
·        The Cambodian (Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge) mass extermination
·        Saddam Hussein’s’ attempted genocide of the Southern Shiite Arabs
·        Turkeys  Armenian and Kurdish genocides

These are ‘just’ some of the terrible crimes of the previous century – we have not even begun to investigate Brazil for its genocide of the indigenous tribes of the Amazon basin.  There are eight nations within an area almost as large as Australia that are part of that basin and it would be naïve to think that Brazil is alone in its shocking treatment of its native Indian population.

A journalist works with an inverted pyramid (who, what, where, when and why are placed first).  This pyramid is essential to building a false narrative because it allows for necessary information to be ignored if it fails to contribute to contemporary journalism's personal prejudices.  Nicky Campbell injected two people into the debate and it was their fundamental bias that was meant to cloud any reasonable discussion. 

The first, Tom Lawson, stated that the Shoah was not unique but part of a “broader phenomena”. He argued that if it was unique it not only diminished it but stops us learning from it. Nicky Campbell reinforced this last statement by immediately adding that if something is unique it has no lessons for us.  Both are classic fascist arguments, superficially plausible but devoid of merit. Something is unique because of its nature, not necessarily because it is a “one-off” occurrence. The only thing that can possibly prevent something re-occurring is to understand it and more crucially, to learn from it.  This is one simple reason the question itself was so offensive.  In a latter exchange of tweets Tom Lawson wrote: “I took part in a program that asked ‘that question’. The answer is no. How we remember is a rather different question.”

The second person, Professor Nira Yuval-Davis, was once married to the anti-Zionist activist and Muslim convert Uri Davis.  Ms Yuval-Davis could only have been injected into the debate as a controversial sop to anti-Zionists.  Her contribution: that “political, economic and social interests” are involved in the way we commemorate the Shoah, and that Israel’s leader cynically exploits it, was gratuitous and therefore offensive. Nicky Campbell and the BBC had no right to add her into a debate about Holocaust remembrance.Yuval-Davis stated that “part of the problem is the way Israel uses this ‘Never again to Jews’ argument.” And she then added “never again to anybody.”  The only person cynically exploiting the Shoah for her own offensive agenda was this disgusting person. “Never again” is a common, justifiable refrain. Yuval-Davis’s implied allegations are politically motivated and for that reason they represent an unethical intrusion into the debate.    During the Rule of the Generals in Argentina (when members of the Left were ‘disappeared’ in their thousands) it was Israel that sent emissaries to try and stop the slaughter. No other nation bothered.  The fascist left abandoned its own. Yuval-Davis based her arguments on marginal and malicious hearsay. It is sadly what seems to be accepted practice amongst the academic fascist left that truth is no more than fashion; an articulately designed and insincere narrative meant to reinforce the prejudiced view presented by the scholar without necessarily containing any joined-up facts.

Universal questions demand universal answers and in spite of the exhaustive research that exists to try and understand the Shoah we are never given satisfaction in short and superficial televised debates. It is precisely because the Shoah is so comprehensively studied that it is an appropriate beacon from which we may examine and warn against other potential atrocities and mass extermination events.  But if our understanding of why humanity is able to carry out acts of unimaginable cruelty is subject to relativism then we cannot ever create a truth that is universally applicable to all conflicts and any warning becomes fraught with politicized objections and theological indulgences.

We should not discuss genocide without referencing the abomination of Belgian colonization during the 19th century and early 20th century in Congo Free State, the Arab genocide of Black Sudanese Christians, or, of contemporary relevance, the Arab-Muslim slave trade which continues to this day.  These are issues that are part of what Lawson defined as “a broader phenomena” and of course they must be studied.  But the central question of the debate was whether to stop discussing the Shoah.  The question is loaded with emotion and it cannot be addressed adequately within a politicized debate. That the BBC tried to create this politicization was a crime against the victims of all persecutions.

To quote some of the participants: there is no “hierarchy of victims” or “competition of suffering.”   The BBC, by its inclusion of two politically biased individuals, clearly attempted to show that continued commemoration of the Shoah was unsound because it implied competitive persecution as an intrinsic aspect of Shoah remembrance.

It is much easier to explain why I objected to Sky news.

Psychological brain-washing is defined by Daniel Kahneman as “a self-reinforcing pattern of cognitive, emotional and physical responses that is both diverse and integrated. This associative coherence creates a context for future developments and all it takes is the association of words in a group to an image or a page in a book.  You have psychologically been brain-washed into associating the conjunction of words as representative of reality.” (P51 “Thinking, Fast and Slow”).

Associative connections are formed with words and pictures.

Sky News Anchor Adam Boulton encouraged acceptance of a negative link between Israeli self-defence and Palestinian attacks on Israel, effectively blaming Jewish self-preservation for antisemitism.  Images of Gaza juxtaposing a discussion on the Holocaust create negative associative connections that given the previous comments by Boulton are clearly intended to justify antisemitism. News Anchors do nothing without intention. The Shoah was a mass extermination event. Gaza is ruled by people who, in their foundation covenant call for a similar mass extermination.  Operation Protective Edge cannot be linked to the Shoah unless Boulton was attempting to link the genocidal Islamic theology of Hamas with the latest war.  Given his earlier comments it is clear that this was not his intent.

Based on how British journalistic empires chose to commemorate the Shoah it is painfully clear that Britain has intellectually sold its soul to a morally impoverished class for whom scoring political points are the only reason for engaging in debate.