Saturday, January 20, 2007

Reading News from (and about) Israel

To invoke that ludicrous Fox epithet, it is almost impossible to get "fair and balanced" news from our about Israel by relying on American sources. Whether or not this has to do with what, in my last blog, I called "the AIPAC factor" (the influence of the American Israel Public Affair Committee on American media) requires more debate than this particular item can afford, although it remains interesting to note that the Mearsheimer-Walt report on AIPAC influence had to be read in the London Review of Books. For now I simply want to note that Al Jazeera now seems to be covering Israel, to the best of their abilities, even if those abilities are limited to tracking publicly-available sources. I was first aware of this when they reported an interview that King Adbullah II of Jordan gave to Ha'aretz. Today they have upped the ante with a story about a leading Israeli citizen.

The citizen is Yosef Lapid, the chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. As a Holocaust survivor himself, Lapid can hardly be accused as a sympathizer of anti-Semitic practices. However, as one who experienced such practices, Lapid is well aware of the symptoms and knows that they can be generalized to targets other than Jews. The particular targets he currently has in mind are the Palestinian residents of Hebron, and the pro-Palestinian nature of the story may well explain why one has to go to Al Jazeera to learn about it. Lapid decided that it was time to speak out against the recent behavior of Israeli's who settled in Hebron when government policy enabled (facilitated?) the settling of the West Bank territory acquired after the Six-Day Way:

Lapid's unusually fierce and public attack was prompted by Israeli television footage showing a Hebron settler woman hissing "whore" at her Palestinian neighbour and settler children lobbing rocks at Arab homes.

The spectacle stirred outrage in the Jewish state, where many view the settlers as a movement opposed to co-existence between Jews and Arabs, and hostile to the creation of a future Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Lapid had reminded his fellow Israeli's that this was precisely the sort of behavior that he and his Jewish neighbors had experienced in Yugoslavia prior to the Second World War. This was the sort of practice that he had hoped he would never again have to encounter it; but encounter it he did, even if the shoe was now on another foot.

A bit of context may be in order here: The presence of settlers in Israeli territory has always been a contentious issue. We saw just how ugly things good get when Israel made the effort to remove the settlers from Gaza. The Hebron settlement consists of only about 400 Israelis in the midst of about 150,000 Palestinians. One would think that this would be a possible "social laboratory" for cultivating good inter-cultural relations; but it not turning out that way. Al Jazeera reported the reaction to Lapid's comments as follows:

Hebron's settlers responded to Lapid's comments angrily.

"The man is obviously a very, very sick person, to compare the Jews in Hebron to barbarians and compare us to the Nazis," David Wilder, a spokesman for the settlers in Hebron, said.

Another community spokesman, Noam Arnon, played down the televised harassments as "fringe incidents," and told Israel Radio: "In six years, 37 Jews have been murdered in Hebron, and now they're preoccupied with curses?"

My first job after I got my doctoral degree was in Israel. I taught at the Technion in Haifa from the fall term of 1971 through the end of the summer term of 1973 (meaning that I left just before the Yom Kippur War). I was, to say the least, depressed by the level of prejudicial language I encountered, against Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular, almost always justified by the same argument: "What else can you say about people who want to drive us into the sea?" Often, I would try to respond with rhetorical devices: "That's right, turning the other cheek doesn't appear until the New Testament." Such reasoning was not appreciated, so I was extremely pleased to see Lapid take this bull (double entendre probably intended) by the horns. He has far more of a "bully pulpit" than I ever had; and it is time for someone to use that pulpit to say, "Just look at yourselves. Can you see what you are doing? Can you see how arrogantly it violates the most fundamental teaching of our faith?" I just hope that the United States media giants have the good sense to pick up on this story while it is still "hot."

One final thought: It goes without saying that the primary focus of AIPAC is on American politicians and their policy positions towards Israel. Now that Hillary Clinton has announced the formation of her "exploratory committee," we should recall that, when The New York Review wrote its article about the Mearsheimer-Walt report, they included a less-than-complimentary photograph of Hillary with Arial Sharon (who, of course, was the primary reason for the presence of settlers in the occupied territories). This is the time for those of us who vote to remind Hillary that, in the immortal words of Ricky Ricardo, she has some "'splainin' to do" about her connection to AIPAC; and, of course, we should be equally demanding of all other declared or potential candidates. Any "audacity" that fails to scrutinize our relationship with Israel in a more global context should be made of sterner stuff!

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