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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Human Malice and Ethics

In the late 1980’s I rented accommodation in the same house as two women from Zimbabwe. It came as a surprise to me and my politically correct friends that these ladies were not only jingoistic but profoundly racist.  In retrospect it was illogical, an act of unintended ignorance that we could consider ethnicity, religious affiliation or historical experience as being a bar to prejudice.  Being ‘Black’ and having successfully overthrown the ‘White’ devil regime (Rhodesia) these women knew that because they had suffered only they had the right to judge what was ethical and what was not; only they could define racism.

I then met two ‘doctors’ who had escaped from Poland in the 1970’s and pursued careers in computing science in the UK. They were Catholics.  As was I suppose inevitable, one day they were talking about their homeland. They referred to The Poles and The Jews of Poland.  I naively corrected their ethnic subversion by clarifying that they meant Polish Catholics and Polish Jews. These computer scientists looked at me with pained confusion. Poles were Poles and Jews were Jews. Aryan ideology saw both Slavs and Jews as racially inferior and as being unworthy of existence. A thousand years of national co-existence and the annihilation of three million Polish Catholics and three million Polish Jews meant nothing to this son and daughter of Poland.  Though both Jews and Catholics had suffered Nazi purification my Polish Catholic acquaintances were intellectually incapable of internalising either a shared humanity or, a shared national identity.

But before we condemn either Africa or Europe for this shared racism I recall my discussions with our Arab and non-Arab but Muslim brethren. And they were no different. Edward Said, a towering intelligence and distinguished professor of Harvard University was responsible for much of the moral relativism (different cultures have different standards) and moral equivalence (it is considered acceptable to murder babies because asymmetrical warfare creates the necessity that justifies the action) the Left uses to validate atrocity and genocide in the Islamic world.  Professor Said admitted that even as a Christian, he was sorely jealous of his Muslim brothers because, to be a true Arab one needed the ‘superior’ historic attachment to Muhammad that only a ‘believer’ could genuinely possess.

The universalism of the Left failed to challenge this hypocrisy or perhaps it was simply a fact that the Left was always ethically insipient.

Dozens of racial groups survive in the Near East and all of them have been persecuted by the Arab Conquerors. The dream of global conquest and control has rarely diminished since Muhammad burst out of the Arabian Peninsula in the Seventh Century CE (AD). But that conquest has meant cultural colonisation and theft, ethnic cleansing and genocide.  Animists, Black Christians, Jews, Marsh Arabs, Armenians, Kurds and Assyrians (the massacre of Assyrians in Northern Iraq in 1933 inspired Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin to coin the word “genocide”).  The Left says nothing but then, rarely either, does the right.
The UN was created out of the ashes of world war two to facilitate dialogue and by multilateral interaction to foreclose on human conflict.  Instead, it remains, like its League of Nations predecessor an Orwellian gaggle of politically promiscuous purveyors of propaganda and elegantly concocted malice. Perhaps that is unfair, a prostitute, by professional design, is indiscriminate while the UN is very discriminating in its targeting of lies.

Here in the UK from time to time we hear that a right wing extremist has been found to be working for some government department or a privatised utility and that we must all be protected from their pernicious and evil influence by their immediate exclusion from the workplace.  But members of the Socialist Workers Party and their Islamic Fundamentalist co-conspirators are permitted to roam freely our corridors even though the threat from them is no less and perhaps even greater.  I have discussed calmly and with careful consideration for the sensitivity of my Muslim acquaintances feelings, their perceptions and desires.  What has most surprised me is the disconnect between the suit and tie, the honeyed words flowing from flawless and refined English mouths and their insistence that human slavery is a natural state of existence. They would never publicly demand a Black racial return to forced indenture but tell the rest of us infidels that we should all choose to live under slavery’s benign Islamic mantle.

So when people tell me that I should be less fearful and more trusting of others intentions, I am unable to make of the enlightenment, my teacher.  I have no desire to pour over the history books for examples of beacons of tolerance and love. All I need is to examine the manifest hypocrisy of my modern Western masters.  Those who always insist only I must turn the other cheek help me to recognize the intellectual decline of Western thought and its concomitant resurgence of and identifying with an anti-Semitic tradition; the all too common insistence that for the sake of world peace and human justice only I need to fall on my own sword.

David Mamet recently wrote that Israel is the modern embodiment of the latent need for human sacrifice.  Perhaps it is the best explanation we have for how we came to excuse hate, proudly celebrated as the legal expression of a particular illumination.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Arab ‘Spring’, the Israeli Winter

Moshe Arens, a former foreign minister under Menachem Begin in analysing the Arab Spring summarised its salient features as encompassing the following: No respect for human rights, oppression of women, contempt for democratic values; a school system that is backward and encourages ignorance (even in its graduates) and a radical religious population which is increasing as a percentage of the whole.  The recent Egyptian election results recorded over 34% voting for the religiously chauvinistic Muslim Brotherhood and 26% voting for the even more violently racist Salafist movement.

The question must be asked, how is the direction in which Israel is headed any different to its Arab protagonists? It is a question being increasingly raised by foreign officials and Israelis alike.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the celebration of ethnicity. We are all born with labels. Some labels we inherit from our parents while others are imposed on us by society. Too often labels serve no more than to impose the values or prejudices of one group onto another, to reinforce our comfortable prejudices.  When society applies different rules to separate groups it is a form of legalised and intermittent apartheid (another label).

Labels make up our identity.

Identity was initially defined by tribe then by religion and then by nationality. For many of us, it still is.  In the Western world ‘nationality’ supplanted religion in self-identification but did not supersede it.  Religion defined groups and helped create unique national identities.  Built upon multiple layers, identity reinforced the primary group collective.  Again, labels: ethnic, cultural, educational and historical define us.

In totalitarian societies labels are used not only to define limits but also to compartmentalise those who are empowered, those who are disenfranchised and the multiplicity of perceived ‘threats’ in between.

All nations are idiosyncratic. By failing to construct a narrative that unites the nation, Israel has created a mishmash of competing communities for whom tribal allegiances are more important than national consensus. 

Contrast this with the Arab 'world' and the difference could easily pose an existential threat not just to Israel but to all humanity. In attempting to unify all people under ‘the’ one god, the Islamic world created a malevolency of violence and benighted prejudice and Israel is now infected by it.  I repeat; by adapting the Arab-Islamic model of intolerance Israel has itself become contaminated. Israel’s political model is one that respects no-one; its most salient feature is its contempt for diversity of opinion.  The sclerotic fiction bound prejudice of the Arab world justifies every betrayal for its race and its god; the Jewish people must not follow their model.

A people incapable of standing as one will fall as one.  We arrived here because we allowed contempt to take the place of honest dissent. Pure proportional representation empowered a political minority with immense influence far in excess of its numeric size.  Xenophobic pronouncements feed fear, not compromise. But also consider how Israel permitted its university professors to demonise the country. Freedom of speech tolerates the urge to self-destruction but why do we pay our teachers to counsel their students on how they may also self-destruct? This masochistic impulse is one chronic symptom of an immature society that is struggling with and neurotically conflicted by its identity.  Fascism of the Left or of the Right, will always exploit self-abuse which is rightly viewed as a sign of inherent weakness. McCarthyism has been a leftist weapon used to intimidate anyone with whom they differed since the 1960’s. The extremists of anti-Americanism and anti-Israeli’ism share a platform with a pride they would be unable to justify were they to apply the same standards to Islam or Europe.  The gauleiters of political correctness reject diversity of thought because it means accepting that there is more than one path to salvation.

If democracy is synonymous with populism then the early twentieth century’s irresponsibility by which the ruling elites dragged the world into two world wars can only be repeated in the twenty-first century because we have renounced responsibility for an ethical domestic or foreign policy.  It is too easy to blame it all on economics.

Gadi Taub in an opinion piece in Israeli newspaper 'Yediot Achranot' commented that the elections in Egypt did not signify a positive change for the people. He said that “liberating the masses may be the dawn of a new oppression”.

This same trend applies across the globe but a nation that has never known freedom has a greater danger of transferring power from one tyranny to another, even more bloody and with less restraint because the escalation in violence is implicit in the mandate. Witness Russia under Communism and Iran under Khomeini'ism.

The internal threat to society is as great as the external threat. Betrayal does not usually come with a tattooed label.  Israel needs national unity; polarisation is an intellectual failure to which all political parties share guilt, equally. And Israeli laws currently being discussed that target specific groups are not just bad laws, they are divisive and anti-democratic laws.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Democracy in peril

When I first stayed in Israel, almost 40 years ago, I observed the behaviours of Western verses Mizrahi sects of ultra orthodox Judaism as being synonymous with the conflicting visions of modernity and conservatism that divided the nation of secular and religious Jew.   Tainted by centuries of persecution and displaying a reactionary response to modernism much of the orthodox world ejected Judaism’s humanistic values and embraced the misogynistic narrative of the cultures from which they so scrupulously stood apart.  But not the Mizrahim (the Jews of Arab lands).

They, like their western cousins were discriminated against, occasionally they were persecuted and killed.  In Israel almost 40 years ago I observed two male Mizrahi ultra orthodox Jews seated next to each other on a bus. It was a long journey from Jerusalem in the South to Safed in the far north. A pregnant woman got onto the bus and one of the men immediately jumped up to let her sit down.

Today, on a bus filled with the ultra orthodox, that woman would remain standing for the entire journey.  Prejudice has triumphed over piety and we in our naivety and indifference excuse this behaviour and call it ‘respect’. We have allowed ignorance to flower.

Israel, as ‘light unto the nations,’ or at least as a light unto its immediate neighbours, is not doing a good job in Parliament.   Verbal violence and the compulsion to call ones rivals ‘Nazis’ and ‘traitors’ is neither congruent with moderation in speech nor demonstrably classifiable as restrained behavior. Our parliamentarians should lead by example. They do not.  Israel needs an independent Standards committee with powers of enforcement that is able to define Knesset ethics.  Provide them with the greater authority to examine standards for all bodies and individuals receiving public funds, and to determine standards of public discourse for everyone drawing on state monies. Calling MK and Science Minister Daniel Herskowitz a Nazi and threatening him, because he is a member of a right wing government that evacuated three illegal settlements, is a frightening development.

The conceit of some to propose legislation against left wing organizations that are in receipt of overseas donations while excluding donations received by the ‘right wing,’ is similarly alarming. I recall Amos Elon writing that four years after World War One had ended Germany had suffered 376 political murders; 22 by leftists (sentenced to a combined total of 248 years in prison) and 354 murders by rightists who between them received a total of 90 years in prison.  Terror begins with the variable application of the rule of law.

A national debate on standards is required if Israel is not going to end up as just one more sad Near Eastern dictatorship.  Left and Right are equally at fault in this failure of debate.

There are those that will argue against any self-control because in the interlude of passionately held belief it is wrong to conceal ones true feelings or fears. But when we call our adversaries ‘Nazis’ or dismiss them as ‘traitors’ we are expressing more than our beliefs, we are labelling our enemy and rejecting debate as without any value. The British parliamentary model of decorum may be an extreme but it has lasted for almost a thousand years.  It works.

Abuse encourages corruption.  The intent of David Ben-Gurion and his ruling party in enshrining the religious / secular status-quo in 1948, leaving religion to the religious instead of formally separating synagogue and state was that they assumed congruence between ethics and religiosity. The problem is that values are a set of beliefs by which you live your life and beliefs are no more than a structured system of values.  Notice the absence of universal ethical constraints.

When an unrepresentative group holds disproportionate political and economic power against the public interest it damages democracy and the best will flee. Israel cannot afford to encourage separation between religious and secular Israelis in education, housing, the military and the workplace.  Without equality resentment festers and violence grows. Secular Israelis must have a voice in their religious destiny because the multiple Jewish sects are too busy defending their own special interests to be morally responsible for our welfare, or the States.

Universal conscription should be without exception and I would excommunicate the Neturei Karta. You cannot live in a country and actively work against its survival. That they justify their actions on religious grounds does not cancel out the crime against the State or its people. MK’s must sign an oath of allegiance and that means they are Israeli and if they are not, they cannot be a member of parliament. They represent not only their constituents, they also represent the nation. If they do not, then they should find employment elsewhere.  This would create problems for some of the more racist Arab MK’s who stand shoulder to shoulder with their racist Arab brothers against the Jewish population of Israel.  But democracy cannot survive unless it has a core set of beliefs to which all are wholly committed.

To desegregate communities, students should be bussed in until populations cease to be islands of prejudiced uniformity or ghettos of ignorant bliss.

I recall the horrified look on the face of a Hasidic friend when I attempted to scribble down his telephone number on the back of my hand. He explained that it was wrong to do so because we are all human and to write on our bodies is to scribble on Gods work. This universalism did not apply to one people, one race, one religion or one orientation.  It is an extreme view but essentially it is an expression of humility before the creator. Now the ultra-orthodox burn down bus shelters that display what they have decided is inappropriate; they spit at women dressed ‘immodestly’ and they spit on people different to them. They have forgotten the teachings of the Torah and it is they who today defile the creator.  Humility has been replaced with intolerance and spite.

Israel with its imperfect and dysfunctional democracy is threatened by extremism and intolerance no less than its neighbours. A series of legislative efforts by the extreme right and orthodox measures accepted by local authorities are a threat to freedom. It is only right for foreign donors whether they are individuals, charities or nations to be registered and that the public should know who they are. Some of them work with the State; many of them are working against it. In the USA all foreign funding must be registered. That is fair. There is nothing intrinsically wrong in being a lobbyist for a foreign entity. But let it all be out in the open.  If it is not, it undermines the level playing field that is part of the fabric of a democratic nation’s strength.   Foreign financial intervention can have the intent to rend the fabric of national consensus or support an antagonist against the consensus.

But the extreme right demands that only “Left wing” donations be registered in its currently debated legislation. This is a grotesque attack on democracy.  A law that targets one group or another is not just a bad law; it is an anti-democratic law.

And to limit the presence of women in the public domain is to encourage the talibanisation of Israel and the Islamisation of Judaism. It is an obscene reaction by a community that is afflicted with an obsessive self worth bordering on idolatry. The oppression of women and their exclusion from society is symptomatic of a community that has lost its Jewish identity and sociopathically externalised its own neurotic fears.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that “an ideological battle must not be waged at the expense of someone who refuses to be sacrificed on its altar.”   The violence of language has not diminished and ideological exuberance remains a poor excuse for libel.

Israel desperately needs an independent public standards authority that is mandated by Parliament to oversee Parliament. Contempt must have its penalties.  To suspend without pay those people in public employment who are unable to control their speech is a good start. And impeachment should be the response we offer to those people who sail with our enemies or attempt to erase our history. It is time to rein in ‘Lashon ha ra’ – the evil tongue.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Know your enemies as you would know yourself

Israel has a problem. Free speech is never absolute. Throughout the free world violence against those who speak out against Islam is creating the effect its perpetrators desired.  Fear. Intellectual apartheid has arisen across the globe. To criticise Islam for its violence and its blood lust is made unacceptable by fear and by economics. Oil and 1,400 million potential customers make for a persuasive silence in choosing ones sleeping partners. Islam has made the UN its propaganda tool and its cash cow. To defame Jews and to demonise Israel is wholly acceptable. Aided and abetted by the fascist left a kind of intellectual autism informs debate. There can be no other explanation for the excessive doctrinal rigidity that permits Muslims, Arabs and their fellow travellers to commit every abuse against human rights but denies Israel the basic rights we in the West take for granted.

It is with this in mind that Israel, surrounded by hostility, is urged by the current US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta today (3rd December 2011) to address what he describes as ‘The Jewish States growing isolation in the Middle East’.

He suggested that Israel reach out and ‘mend fences’ with countries like Turkey, Egypt and Jordan which share an interest in regional stability. He also said that Israel and the Palestinians should ‘get back to the damned table’.

He acknowledged that “If the gestures are rebuked, the world will see those rebukes for what they are and that is exactly why Israel should pursue them."

It sounds fine. But nothing in the extreme anti-Zionist debate that has taken place over the last decade or two supports Leon Panetta’s view.

And Israel is as much to blame for this state of international affairs as its Western interlocutors.

Israel exists because it is a reaction to Islamic, Arab colonialism and prejudice.
Israel exists because Islam is incapable of peacefully co-existing with any minority in its midst except under conditions of Islamic institutionalised inequality.
Israel exists because Jewish Palestinians have a right to self-determination.
Israel exists because the Arab world is inherently racist.

Israel exists because the Jewish state could absorb and did absorb Jewish refugees from the Arab world. This is the same neighbourhood that discriminated against them, and ultimately, ethnically cleansed them from their ‘pure Arab’ lands. And today Israel absorbs black Christian and black Muslim refugees.  The Arab world rapes and kills its refugees. The Arab world has built concentration camps for its refugees and as the third generation of Palestinians are born in its Arab lands it continues to refuse to absorb even a single individual and illegally, denies them the choice of citizenship.

The Muslim nations of Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan – these nations have all been guilty of ethnic cleansing and at least one or two, of genocide.

Israel should be paying attention to the discrimination, religious bigotry and anti-Semitic propaganda of its neighbours because it is a fundamental construct of the war being waged against it and an inseparable trait of Islamic theological identity. It is a failure of Secular Israel that even without a constitution, Israel is more extreme in its anti-religious identity than any other nation at the UN and because of this it is incapable of seriously addressing any issue that has a religious basis to it.

Israel is isolated because the Islamic world smells blood and is excited by it. Israel is isolated because its diplomatic corps is its most dysfunctional government department. Finally, Israel is isolated because it is politically paralysed and ideologically adrift.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta would be a little more reluctant to point out Israel’s diplomatic failures without first addressing Israel’s neighbours prejudices if Israel consistently stood up for itself and was diplomatically more assertive in the international field.  You cannot win a propaganda war if you do not participate in the debate.

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am 'I'? And if not now, when?" Hillel, Sayings of the Fathers.