We can learn from history if we are willing to. We remember the Holocaust because of the important lessons it provides. “Never again” is the mantra. Unfortunately, we keep making the same mistakes.
If any peoples should have learned the lessons of exclusion and hate it should have been the Jews. Of course, many Jews have. Unfortunately, the leaders of the Israeli state have learned nothing from the past. This period does provides amble evidence of the dangers of nationalism and racism, especially when they become the guiding principles of authoritarian regimes.
Yet they are making the same mistakes with similar (but not identical) consequences. This time they (the Israeli government and their right-wing supporters) are the victimizers. They may justify their behavior in the name of self-defense, but what they have actually done is locked themselves into a cycle of never-ending violence and revenge.
David Shulman explains the unfortunate situation in Israel today.
An excerpt: “But Israeli McCarthyism has an additional, distinctive element that deepens the madness. It is directly linked to Israel’s colonial project in the occupied Palestinian territories. Anyone who opposes the occupation in word or deed is now at risk. For the right, patriotism is synonymous with occupation and all that comes with it, above all the dispossession and expulsion of Palestinians and the theft of their lands. One can hear overtly racist rationalizations of this aim any day on the public radio talk shows. Put simply, the occupation system as a whole is ruled by the logic of stark division between the privileged Israeli occupiers and the Palestinian occupied, who are totally disenfranchised and stripped of all basic human rights.”
Source: Israel: The Broken Silence by David Shulman | The New York Review of Books
David Shulman comments on a report released by Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli ex-soldiers. The report is the culmination of an investigation of the Israeli campaign in Gaza last summer. Shulman explains that “the findings of the report—including the results of the fighting and the orders that brought them about—are nothing very new. What is more striking is how they suggest the impressive persistence and, indeed, continual intensification of practices that have occurred over the last three or four decades. Significant change lies only in the fact that the acts in question now reflect deliberate and explicit policy of a systemic nature coming down from the top. The Israel army once claimed to hold, nominally at least, to moral considerations of an entirely different order than those officially adopted last summer. Now, even that pretense seems to be gone.” Read more on this report and Shulman’s insightful commentary:
Gaza: Killing Gets Easier by David Shulman | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books.
In his astute assessment of the current state of anti-Semitism, Alon Ben-Meir quotes H. L. Mencken: “Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority… All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them.” I think this gets to the heart of the problem. All sides (all who are involved in fanning the flames of hatred, whether toward the Jews or Palestinians) have been guilty of adamantly adhering to their own moral superiority without ever considering that they may be wrong or partly wrong.
With this in mind, Ben-Meir wisely advises Israelis not to “dismiss anti-Semitism simply as an incurable disease when in reality it is practicing ‘anti-Semitism’ against a large segment of its own population. The responsibility of diminishing anti-Semitism falls squarely on the shoulders of the Israeli political leaders and the public. Israel must embrace the moral values on which it was founded; its future, if not its very survival, may well depend on it.”
Please read the entire article at:
History News Network | Israel needs to acknowledge the reasons for the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.
This is an interesting interview with Bruce Hoffman, author of Anonymous Soldiers. Here is one of the questions he answers: “In the preface to Anonymous Soldiers, you ask the question, ‘does terrorism work?’ What are the circumstances and factors that enable some terrorist campaigns to succeed and others to fail based on the lessons from the Irgun and Lehi’s campaigns?” Read the entire interview here:
History News Network | What We now Know About the Birth of Israel Thanks to the Opening of British MI5 Archives.
Chip Gibbons reports that “some pro-Israel groups have now set their sights on a familiar target—Middle Eastern studies departments. A coalition of groups led by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and the AMCHA Initiative are leading a campaign to end federal funding for college Middle Eastern studies programs unless they adopt means to oversee and police the alleged ideological content of those programs.” If these groups get their way it would set a precedent for imposing ideological agendas by force in higher education. Knowledge does not advance through censorship, but through unfettered debate. If these groups disagree with certain claims about Israel they should engage in scholarly debate. Their agenda also threatens to undermine any hope for peace in the region. If we are to tackle the problem we need to face the situation honestly and JUSTLY. A one-sided perspective in which one group is completely innocent (Israelis) and the other is completely guilty (Palestinians) is not only not true, it will perpetuate the status quo of revenge/counter-revenge in the region.
Congress Under Pressure to Defund University Middle East Programs | Defending Dissent Foundation.
Does anyone else find this disturbing? An organization called Campus Watch audits the courses of professors who teach in the area of Middle Eastern studies to ensure that they align with their pro-Israeli perspective. On their website they claim that their organization “reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America with an aim to improving them. The project mainly addresses five problems: analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics, and the abuse of power over students. Campus Watch fully respects the freedom of speech of those it debates while insisting on its own freedom to comment on their words and deeds.” A review of their activities show that they are only perpetuating the “problems” they profess to be fighting against. While they do have the right to free speech their efforts to harass professors with views that are different from their own goes beyond their right to criticize those they disagree with. It is a very dangerous trend that I believe does not actually serve their real purpose (promote Israel as innocent of all wrong doing). James Gelvin, professor of history at ACLU, is their latest victim. One of Campus Watch’s representatives, Cinnamon Stillwell, attacked Gelvin in an article entitled “UCLA Prof Assigns Pro-Israel Book in Order to Trash It.” In one of his courses, Gelvin had required his students to read Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel in order to critique it. Stillwell claims that this critique was not extended to other assigned material. But Gelvin pointed out that he also assigned a book with the opposite perspective and that “the assignment explicitly states that significant errors from both books must be cited, critiqued, and corrected.” For the full debate go to:
History News Network | Conservatives go after UCLA’s historian James Gelvin.
The goals and practices of Campus Watch go beyond the right to free speech, it amounts to harassment with the goal of stamping out all view points on campuses across America that do not conform to their ideological viewpoint. I believe that this trend is dangerous to not only to academic freedom but also to the prospects of peace in the Middle East. It serves only to perpetuate hatred and undermines any real attempts to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
While the present attack on academics who speak out against Israel is not as egregious as those that happened during the McCarthy Era, they are just as damaging to free speech. The critics are usually denounced as anti-Semitic and under that guise they are discredited as racist. On those grounds those defending Israel feel justified in their efforts to destroy the careers of those academics (the Salaita
case is just the most prominent). The problem is that this is to confuse antisemitism with actions of the state of Israel (some may have done so intentionally as a way to shut down opinions that they do not like). One doesn’t have to be an anti-Semite to object to the actions of the state of Israel. I find antisemitism abhorrent (and I have said so often), but I also find some of the actions of the Israeli government abhorrent as well. And there have been many Jews who have spoken out against the Israeli government on this topic as well. One of the most powerful statements comes from Theodore Bikel
, who wrote in the Jewish Journal
against “the death of Arab children.” “People see suffering and unless it is Jewish suffering they are silent. How dare they?” We should follow Theodore’s example and take a stand against injustice no matter who is committing it.
The Israeli government does not and should not get a free pass just because of the long history of antisemitism.
The historian Lawrence Davidson points out that attempts to shut down speech is a historical pattern that is unlikely to end. But he believes that we can “minimize the consequences of these repeated assaults” if we “continuously defy them. In other words, only by maintaining a counter-pattern of vigorously defending and using the right of free speech and academic freedom can space be sustained for critical voices. If at any time we fail to sustain this space we risk the possibility of being overwhelmed by a combination of closed-minded ideologues and the mass indifference of the majority.” Please read his article at the HNN:
History News Network | Every 30 or 40 Years We See Flagrant Attacks on Free Speech. Here We Go Again..
See also: “Did Salaita Cross the Line of Civility?” The New York Times
They are doing exactly they opposite of what they should be doing if they actually want to protect their citizens. Don’t they remember their own history?
I’m so glad to see a Jewish leader who survived the Holocaust speak out on this issue. Thank you Henry Siegman for speaking out!!
Today in The New York Times Mustafa Akyol wrote a great piece of advice for Israel if the Israelis actually wanted to end the terrorism. It’s advice I would have given the Israelis if they had asked (ha ha!).