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  1. Kristen McHugh
    Kristen McHugh June 9, 2010 at 7:24 am |

    This articulates a great deal of what I think we fail to understand as a society. “Heroes,” are people who do extraordinary things at the moment when destiny, fate or whatever requires it. They do the things we can’t imagine ourselves doing, and yet show us that it can be done. Whether it’s Rosa Parks or Oskar Schindler, heroism is the most ordinary thing in the world. That heroism doesn’t make people more or less than people, which is where the disconnect comes in. Do I think a great deal of what Helen Thomas said would benefit from being placed in a larger context? Yes. Do I think she articulated what I imagine she actually meant, as clearly as she should have? No. What I think, is that when we put people on pedestals, it’s actually because we someday want to knock them off. We idolize and resent people at the same time. Mostly because we are a covetous species that never seems to synthesize the idea that what one of us has, doesn’t *have* to take away from the rest of us. Israel is such a polarizing issue, that rather than examine it for what it is, everyone’s reactions have become knee-jerk. Fact: Jews have been persecuted for a millenia, this is wrong. Fact: Israel, as a state – is dangerously close to, if not tumbling headlong through, the abyss they’ve stared to long at. There is no right/wrong binary here, just a political, bloody morass where too many good men and women aren’t doing anything to speak up and make it right. Thanks for thinking about, and trying to remind us all – “A hero ain’t nothin’ but a sandwich.”

  2. Samantha b.
    Samantha b. June 9, 2010 at 7:42 am |

    Right. Thank you. I think you’ve gone straight to the point. People are flawed, and it’s incredibly unhealthy to expect otherwise. It voids your own responsibility, like someone magical is supposed to swoop in and make everything perfect. We should be asking for something like collaborative, incremental shoves in the right direction, I tend to think.

    Also: I’m glad to hear you’ve got thick skin, and I’m not entirely sure I want to see where the comments go on from here.

  3. Maia
    Maia June 9, 2010 at 8:09 am |

    I think this is a really important point. The very notion of heroes belies the reality that it’s the many and not the few that make change. Tor ealise that some of those at the front of that change are complex human beings is a good thing.

  4. Gayle Force
    Gayle Force June 9, 2010 at 8:57 am |

    Sarah, thanks so much for this post. As another far-lefty pissy Jew, parts of whose family were killed in the Holocaust, I had the exact same reaction to the Helen Thomas thing. I have been struggling with how to put into words my complete non-upsettedness about this, but you nailed it. Perfectly.

    And I will miss Helen Thomas’s voice, refusing to join in the echo chamber that is Washington journalism.

  5. Shoshie
    Shoshie June 9, 2010 at 10:42 am |

    I’m also a pissy left-wing Jew. I do know that one issue that’s always made me uncomfortable identifying as radical or far-left is Israel. See, I always felt that there was this test. I could denounce the Israeli government. I could be horrified at the treatment of the Palestinians. I could be an active voice in my religious Jewish community for a two-state solution and end of the occupation (not easy, didn’t make me a ton of friends until I went to college). But it was never enough. People would still argue with me, even as we were saying the same thing. So I stopped going to meetings of far left groups, or even just left wing groups.

    Unlike Sarah, for me, Israel has always been an important part of my identity. It’s the only place where I felt like I could fully relax. People understood what food I could eat and couldn’t eat. I wasn’t going to have to have a long, drawn out discussion of why I couldn’t be somewhere on Friday night, but Sunday was OK. There were religious extremists, but they were my kind of religious extremists. I could understand their beliefs, in some strange, twisted way, and avoid invoking their ire. I didn’t have to worry about being told that my holiday didn’t exist or that I was lying about my religion to get away with stuff. People could pronounce my name. Wow. That was really incredible. It was this amazing experience, not having to worry about those things, even as it was the middle of the Second Intifada and there were so many other things to worry about.

    I had tons of family to visit. Of my mother’s family, only her mother and aunt came to Chicago, so we’ve always had a very small. The rest of her family stayed in Europe. All of them went to camps. Some of them survived or escaped to Palestine. So, suddenly, I had this huge amount of family. The oldest cousin in my generation was just about to start his service in the IDF. At this point, four of my cousins will have either done their service or started it. And I’m aware of that every time the media talks about Israeli military action. When people call the IDF this great evil, when they say that Israeli soldiers deserve to die, they’re talking about my family.

    So Sarah, we have different perspectives here. I don’t think you’re a self-hating Jew. I really, really hate that term, because I think it’s usually used to silence people who disagree with the “mainstream” Jewish opinion. But I don’t think that it’s wrong and being a bad lefty to acknowledge this connection I feel with Israel, just as you’re not wrong to lack that connection.

    My problem with this whole fiasco has been less of what Helen Thomas said, and more how everyone else has reacted. She said a terrible thing. You may not have felt slapped in the face, but I sure did. On behalf of my family who were taken from their homes to Poland, and then escaped to Israel. Because they had nowhere else to go. This is the kicker for me. It’s not like telling white Americans to leave the States, because Britain was the colonial power and westward expansion was a US thing. It didn’t have to happen. The motivation was greed. But the Jews who fled Poland and Russia and Germany and Ethiopia and Yemen and Iran and Iraq and so many other places had no where else to go. No one else would have them, because they were Jews. So it’s different.

    And people have excused and justified and even praised this ill-informed, ill-mannered, and, yes, anti-Jewish, remark that Helen Thomas made. People have pulled out every trick in the book to silence what we have to say. We’re being to sensitive. Let’s actually talk about what the Israeli government is doing, instead of your pain. It’s just her opinion. I know Jews who weren’t offended. Consider her perspective. Geez. And from activists who should totally know better. That’s been far more hurtful than Helen Thomas’ original remark.

    I’m saddened that she lost her job over this. She probably shouldn’t have, and I think we’ve lost an important voice too soon. People say dumb things and frequently aren’t punished for them, and I think it’s important to note who gets punished harsher for saying which offensive things. I think we in the US have a special vitriol for old women, especially ones we think are “uppity.”

    But that doesn’t change the shiver I get when I watch those videos. That doesn’t change the pain I felt when I heard her “off the cuff” opinion on where Israeli Jews ought to go.

    Sorry for the essay, y’all.

  6. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve June 9, 2010 at 10:44 am |

    I feel like everyone is avoiding the elephant in the room, which is that Helen Thomas is 89 years old. Maybe she really is past retirement age and it’s time for the next generation of female reporters to take over.

    My great-aunt was a Holocaust survivor, a feminist, and a very liberal thinker (female doctor in Vienna 1933, not exactly the norm.) However in the last few years of her life she began to make the sort of comments about the various African-Americans she encountered in Manhattan were quite shocking to anyone who knew her (or anyone who didn’t.)

    So, while I don’t judge Helen Thomas as a person and can understand that she may have not meant these things as they sounded- I still think it was time for her to go.

  7. Ruchama
    Ruchama June 9, 2010 at 11:11 am |

    I was going to try to respond to this, but Shoshie said pretty much exactly what I wanted to say, except much better, so I’ll just point at her comment and nod vigorously.

  8. shah8
    shah8 June 9, 2010 at 11:44 am |

    Fat Steve, the only reason I even commented in the last I/P conversation was that I was sick of the ageism, and the treacly condescension that came with it. Compared to male figures who are that old, both competent, like Justice Stephens, and incompetent, like Ronald Reagan and Justice Rehnquist, HT got all that shooey dismissal that those guys didn’t get.

    So people want to do some ritual painting and speeches and send an ancient ewe out of the town, towing the Mavi Marmara behind…Doesn’t mean I want anything to do with that, nor is it a process I’m inclined to respect.

  9. DB
    DB June 9, 2010 at 12:17 pm |

    I appreciate this post a lot. I think it’s so helpful to be reminded that the positionalities from which our politics arise are complicated and messy and filled with contradictions. A friend of mine recently said at a difficult organizing meeting for my group that the important thing is “holding the contradictions,” respecting and not trying to push aside the complexities of a situation. Personally I often end up trying to make something simple and easy to work out; and I think that can be a common practice in general on the left and in activist communities. But with heroes as with everything holding the contradictions is so necessary. Thanks for this.

  10. links for 2010-06-09 | Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture

    [...] “Heroes” Just for One Day — Feministe "I don’t identify with Israel anymore at all. It’s not a place I ever want to go and certainly not a place I want to live. Like many nations in our sort-of-post-colonial world, it’s got a problematic history that will never completely go away–and I have steered mostly clear of those questions in my career. When I write about Israel, it tends to get personal. As you can see. [...]

  11. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve June 9, 2010 at 1:07 pm |

    shah8, I would argue that this country would have been MUCH better if Renqhuist and Reagan had been put out to pasture once they started talking rubbish (for Reagan that would have been about 1954.) I just don’t buy the ‘three wrongs makes a right’ philosophy.

    I do however, think it’s important to point out that famous conservative men have been saying the same things without the same fanfare, including Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan. I think it would be more constructive to speak against these people than to support Helen Thomas.

  12. Meg
    Meg June 9, 2010 at 1:42 pm |

    The agism gets to me, more than anything else. It doesn’t sound, there, like she was saying something because she was old. She was lashing out, in anger, in an incredibly coherent and pointed and historically-informed way, saying “if you are going to kill protesters, you don’t deserve to exist.”

    Now, that is anti-Israel, and it’s eliminationist rhetoric, and a bunch of other things besides. It is the same thing that I said angrily in high school to my fellow students when they acted entitled to the land our ancestors stole and said racist bullshit about immigrants. “Why don’t you move back to Ireland, then?” (most of the ancestors from my high school fled the starvation and religious persecution in Ireland). It was the one piece of oratory I could wield against them, to make them feel, hopefully, guilty for one second for being who they were, where they were, using their privilege against people who were there when they arrived, particularly because they should know that their grandparents faced the same prejudice they now wielded.

    I don’t know whether she meant it literally, or was just reaching for a way to express her anger and outrage, but the one thing what she said is not, is incoherent. At worst, it shows an impatience and entitlement that comes with age, but somehow men are never criticized for that.

    And of course, no one seems to care that Glen Beck is promoting actual Nazis. I know he’s not a new reporter, but he has a much higher profile than Helen Thomas. Watching the video of the attack on the flotilla does make me livid; it is only when I hear people like Beck that I can even being to sympathize again. I can’t help but see the attacks on Thomas as an opportunistic way to get her to STFU.

  13. lt
    lt June 9, 2010 at 1:48 pm |

    @shoshie –
    Along with Sarah, I think you’ve done a great job engaging this post and explaining your feelings. But I do think there’s a perspective missing from your remarks, when you express frustration with the comment “Let’s actually talk about what the Israeli government is doing, instead of your pain.” Helen Thomas deserves to be criticized for her remark, but the fact is, right now, there is a factual difference between the pain we feel as Jews at a thoughtless remark by someone who was forced to resign over it and the actual extreme suffering of millions of people through collective punishment by a powerful country supported by the most powerful country on earth.

    I agree that we shouldn’t villify individual IDF soldiers, anymore than as someone who opposed the Iraq war, I would villify American soldiers. But we can’t ultimately decide where we stand on the issues of the day just by our feeling alone – not if we are progressives or people concerned with justice, anyways.

    We should call out anti-semtism that comes out of this debate. but the fact that it results from Israel’s actions can’t take away from the fact that Israel is the one with the power here, and therefore its policies need to be the focus of the overall discussion, if not a particular discussion of Thomas.

  14. prowlerzee
    prowlerzee June 9, 2010 at 2:22 pm |

    Brava, Shoshie! Thank you.

  15. MissaA
    MissaA June 9, 2010 at 2:33 pm |

    Thank you so much for writing this.

    The thing is that though she was massively tactless and flippant, I think the substantive core of Thomas’ comment was worthy and one that is not heard enough in North America. That Israel’s behaviour as a colonizing power is the heart of the problem, not religious or ethnic/national difference per se. But she utterly failed to communicate that point.

    @ Kristen McHugh

    What I think, is that when we put people on pedestals, it’s actually because we someday want to knock them off.

    I find this a very interesting idea.

    @ Shoshie

    It’s not like telling white Americans to leave the States, because Britain was the colonial power and westward expansion was a US thing. It didn’t have to happen. The motivation was greed. But the Jews who fled Poland and Russia and Germany and Ethiopia and Yemen and Iran and Iraq and so many other places had no where else to go. No one else would have them, because they were Jews. So it’s different.

    That’s true. If Thomas had answered the clarifying question with, “Go back to the original borders, withdraw the settlements, and give refugees their homes back,” … that would have been a completely different statement and I think would have made her point better, without being hurtful. One of the problems with the entire conversation is that while criticism of Israel is conflated with anti-Semitism when it should not be, people who legitimately oppose Israel are not immune to the influence of anti-Semitism in our societies and cultures. And there are some people who are anti-Semetic and use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an opportunity to justify their prejudice and air their bullshit.

  16. Angie
    Angie June 9, 2010 at 2:36 pm |

    Freedom of speech should and does not stop with civilians. We veterans fight for all freedom of speech. Helen Thomas is no exception. She just stated a fact Israel need to [get the hell] out of Palestine. Stop perpetuating the hateful cycle.

  17. David
    David June 9, 2010 at 2:36 pm |

    This is just what I needed to hear and came at just the right time I needed to hear it. I love this post almost as much as I love serendipity. Thanks.

  18. Matt
    Matt June 9, 2010 at 3:34 pm |

    I just needed to comment that this is an excellent post.

  19. JDP
    JDP June 9, 2010 at 3:47 pm |

    I still want to know, if Jews don’t belong in the Middle East, where Sephardim and Mizrahim should go.

  20. NamesnotAnnie
    NamesnotAnnie June 9, 2010 at 4:09 pm |

    Thank you, a) for bringing up Bowie, and b) to put down in such smart writing that yes, sometimes we do look up to people with flaws. We SHOULD criticize them and point out the stupid and problematic things they say, but those things do not negate the good that they have done or the way they helped other people by contributing to social debate.

  21. Shoshie
    Shoshie June 9, 2010 at 4:46 pm |

    It- I agree with you that there is simply no comparison between pain felt by thoughtless and anti-Jewish remarks and the physical, day-to-day oppression that the Palestinians are experiencing. And I think that it’s important to point out that the details of Helen Thomas’ remarks came out at a very convenient time for people who wanted dialogue about the Flotilla to stop. What I don’t appreciate are the comments that her remarks should be ignored, or even praised, because Israel is oppressing the Palestinians. And I have seen far too many of those.

    Angie- Free speech does not mean freedom from criticism. Because that would actually be a restriction on free speech. She’s not being persecuted by the government for her statement. It’s perpetuating hate to leave hateful comments un-criticized.

    Sarah- I think that non-personal politics is totally overrated. it’s important to have access to non-biased facts (or as close as we can get, at any rate). But, fundamentally, politics is about people. All this is about people. It’s important not to forget that, and I thought your post did a really good job reminding folks that all these players are people, with history and flaws and personal baggage– but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, just a human thing.

  22. Dan
    Dan June 9, 2010 at 4:55 pm |

    It isn’t anti-Semitic to criticize the policies or actions of the Israeli government. It isn’t anti-Semitic to believe that the Palestinians are entitled to self-determination.

    I think, though, that it is anti-Semitic to accuse Israel of “apartheid” or to argue that the Jews’ presence in the region is illegitimate.

    I think people who hold these positions rely on lots of misinformation. People seem to want to frame this conflict in terms of European colonials displacing a native population, and that doesn’t accurately describe who the Israelis are, or who the Palestinians are. The history of the Palestinians and their occupied or refugee status is the result of a lot of complicated factors. Egypt and Jordan share the blame for the plight of the Palestinians. The terrorist tactics of the Palestinian resistance movement have been counterproductive to the Palestinian cause. The corruption in the modern Palestinian Authority has impeded the development of the Palestinian political and civil infrastructure.

    It’s unfair to cast Israel as a racist, belligerent state; even its right-wing governments have historically been willing to negotiate with Arab states and to swap territory for peace. It’s unfair to blame Israel for standing in the way of the Palestinian state, when there is no leader empowered by the Palestinians to enter final-status negotiations regarding borders, or to sign a peace treaty.

    When you reduce the complicated history of the region into a simplistic narrative in which the Jews are covetous villains preying upon simple innocents, then it’s fair to question whether hostility towards Jews colors your viewpoint.

  23. djf
    djf June 9, 2010 at 6:56 pm |

    She was lashing out, in anger, in an incredibly coherent and pointed and historically-informed way, saying “if you are going to kill protesters, you don’t deserve to exist.”

    Thomas’s choice of Germany and Poland as places to where Jewish Israelis should return was neither coherent or thoughtful – most Israelis aren’t European – and showed a remarkable lack of historical context.

  24. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac June 9, 2010 at 7:03 pm |

    Dan, part of the complicated history of Palestine and Israel is the Western colonists who came from Europe and North America and displaced the natives. Part of the complicated racial politics of Israel today is the differing racial status given to Jews of different ethnicities. Part of the complicated history of the region is the colonialist attitude expressed in the phrase a land without a people for a people without a land. Part of the history of the region is the apartheid state that has gradually been establishing itself via the complicated situation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which were called the “Occupied Territories” for most of my life, but which I think we must now accept are conquered and claimed by Israel: they lie within Israel’s sovereign borders and their inhabitants have citizenship or not according to their ethnic identity.

    To acknowledge the complexity of the situation does mean being able to point out that the present situation of the Palestinians in the West Bank makes Israel an apartheid state, as Archbishop Tutu noted on his visit there less than ten years ago, without being told “you’re anti-Semitic” or “you’re misinformed”.

    To acknowledge the complexity of the situation does mean being able to point out that Israel is virtually the only nation that has been fighting wars for territory for the past sixty years, has consistently won them and has consistently always ended up with more territory after each war than it has lost.

    Acknowledging historical facts and political realities does not make a person anti-Semitic or misinformed or mean that they are trying to reduce a hideously complicated situation to a “simplistic narrative”. I won’t argue if you identify me as anti-Semitic, because you are Jewish and I am not.

    But I do argue that wanting to recognize the whole complicated history and all the atrocities – from Ottoman rule to British Mandate to Israeli state, from American/European white colonists to Middle Eastern refugees, from terrorists who attacked hotels to terrorists who attack settlements, from soldiers who stopped Jewish refugees from Europe to soldiers who kill Palestinian children for throwing stones – is not a good reason to identify me as anti-Semitic.

  25. djf
    djf June 9, 2010 at 8:17 pm |

    Western colonists who came from Europe and North America and displaced the natives.

    Jesurgislac, I appreciate your desire to understand the multifaceted complexity of middle east politics. But when you refer to Jews as “western colonists” and contrast them with “the natives”, you deny the Jewish claim to the land of Israel. That’s not okay. As far as I can tell, nobody here is denying the Palestinian or Muslim claims to the land. Stop denying the Jewish claim. Stop using language implying that Jews don’t belong in Israel.

  26. MissaA
    MissaA June 9, 2010 at 8:56 pm |

    @ Dan

    People seem to want to frame this conflict in terms of European colonials displacing a native population, and that doesn’t accurately describe who the Israelis are, or who the Palestinians are.

    European colonization was the result of very different forces from the current situation with Israel and Palestine. But Israel’s response to those forces has been to behave like a colonizing power, using the same strategies that settler states around the world have used to control and repress indigenous populations. And ideologically, there are strong similarities between how settler states are imagined as being mostly empty before the arrival of Europeans and Palestine being described as “a land without a people for a people without a land”; and between Manifest Destiny and Zionism. So while the comparison with European colonialism is not a 1:1 analogy, it’s not an altogether bad fit.

    The terrorist tactics of the Palestinian resistance movement have been counterproductive to the Palestinian cause.

    Comments like this always make me wonder what the “right” way for an occupied population to behave is. The rest of your comment seems to say that Palestinians are partly to blame, because they haven’t produced a Gandhi-like leader. Israel is behaving like a settler state, and Palestinians are behaving like an occupied population. I don’t know what the big surprise or disappointment is supposed to be.

    You can recognize that certain power relationships produce certain basic patters which are complicated by their context. And from my admittedly non-Jewish perspective, I have trouble seeing how the statement, “a settler state is doing what settler states do” is ant-Semetic.

  27. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin June 9, 2010 at 9:50 pm |

    I think when we finally acknowledge that ideas are flawed, people are flawed, as are movements themselves that we’ll really be making progress. Even within my faith group, Quakers, there have been historic divisions that have proven heavily problematic over time. So when friction breaks out regarding differing interpretations of this or that, I don’t immediately react. I acknowledge that nothing formed from human hands will be perfect, even efforts designed by human hands specifically for that purpose.

    People honestly do the best they can with the information they have on hand. And my new favorite adage is “don’t judge people, and they won’t judge you”.

  28. Dan
    Dan June 9, 2010 at 10:38 pm |

    You can’t cherry-pick language and rhetoric from the mid 19th century and apply it to the contemporary situation. In 1840, Israel was “a land without a people” not because the Arabs were brown and therefore considered invisible or subhuman, but because because there were barely any people there.

    There have not always been five million Arabs living on this land; Arab presence was small and sparse, and concentrated around the few populated areas that existed at that time. Many Arabs came into this region between the beginning of the Zionist movement and the founding of the state of Israel a hundred years later. The Arab population has also increased in size geometrically in the last fifty years or so; the median age in Gaza is like 15, and the rate of population growth there is among the fastest in the world.

    https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/gz.html

    In 1840, it was “land without a people” because it’s a desert. Water was and remains scarce and the technology and infrastructure to sustain agriculture and the basic living needs of a large population had not been built. The Zionists built it. There was, similarly, no identity or idea of “Palestinians” at that time. And Arab residents were there because they were descendants of previous Arab conquerers. The idea that they are indigenous people is a canard.

    According to Wikipedia, the Arab population of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel at the time of the 1948 partition was about 1.2 million. The UN plan was to partition the territories into two states, with Jerusalem under UN administration. The Arab League nations declared war on Israel as soon as it declared its independence, and waged a war of extermination against the Jews.

    Many Palestinians were displaced as a result of this war; exactly how this happened is disputed. Israelis claim the Palestinians fled to make way for the Arab armies; Palestinians claim the Jews drove them out. There’s probably some truth to both versions.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causes_of_the_1948_Palestinian_exodus

    In any case, when the war ended, Israel controlled more land than they had been allocated under the partition, which they annexed. Arabs who were still living in Israel became Israeli citizens, but Arabs who fled during the war were not allowed to return. The Gaza Strip was occupied by Egypt and the West Bank was occupied by Jordan.

    The refugee camps were established by the Arab states, which did not want to absorb the refugee population. Israel did not be come the occupying army in West Bank and Gaza until its war in 1967 with Egypt and Jordan, in which the Egyptians lost the entire Sinai peninsula and Jordan retreated across the river.

    Israel’s strategy was to trade land for peace treaties with its neighbors. Sinai went back to Egypt as a result of the accord between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. Much of the West Bank was on the table in peace negotiations with Jordan, but the Jordanians didn’t want it.

    The Jordanians, incidentally, butchered thousands of Palestinians in 1970 after a failed PLO coup attempt against King Hussein.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_September_in_Jordan

    Israel is partially responsible for the situation in Gaza. But the plight of the Palestinians was also caused by the UN’s partition plan, the Arab League’s invasion of Israel, by the Egyptian and Jordanian stewardship of the territories, and by the failures of Palestinian leadership.

    So, like I said, Middle Eastern politics are complicated, the root causes that led to this situation is manifold, and there’s a lot of blame to go around. So that’s why it’s perceived as anti-Semitic when you try to streamline this complicated history into a narrative about how Zionism is racism and the Israelis are imperialistic aggressors.

  29. Ursula L
    Ursula L June 9, 2010 at 11:55 pm |

    In a way, I can see the point of “going back to Germany and Poland.”

    Germany and Poland were the nations that harmed the European Jews, and by rights, Germany and Poland were the nations that should have paid reparations, that should have given land and money and been made to create laws to protect and restore the people they harmed.

    It was convenient for Europe to deal with the fallout of the Holocaust by promoting a Jewish state in Israel/Palestine. But it wasn’t just.

    If person A harms person B, the cannot make right the situation by forcing person C to bear the cost of restitution to B. Neither A nor B have the right to demand that of C.

  30. Adrian
    Adrian June 10, 2010 at 12:40 am |

    Somebody else I admire, Elie Wiesel, once said, “When a friend makes a mistake, the friend is still a friend, and the mistake is still a mistake.” (I was going to write that he said it in a completely different context…but the context was another public figure saying something outrageously offensive, after which some leaders of the Jewish community said that he could not be considered an ally, and others said the offensive statement wasn’t important.)

    Helen Thomas said something outrageously wrong, hurtful, and offensive. Helen Thomas did admirable work for many years. Recognizing the truth of one does not mean we have to see the other as false, or even as trivial. The more we simplify the assessments, the more they look like contradictions. (HT=bad, vs HT=good.) Abbreviated stories might retain some modifiers, but only the conflict-enhancing kind. (HT=Israel-hating double-plus bad, vs HT=liberal feminist good.) Distinctions between being a bad person and saying a bad thing fall away as soon as people start getting upset.

  31. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac June 10, 2010 at 2:57 am |

    But when you refer to Jews as “western colonists” and contrast them with “the natives”, you deny the Jewish claim to the land of Israel. That’s not okay.

    That’s part of what I mean. There were Western colonists who came from Europe and North America in the 19th and early 20th century who settled in Palestine and who were not “native” to the Middle East – their only connection with Palestine was religious tradition. And they did displace natives, often with the power of having money to outbid the local tenant farmers.

    To acknowledge that part of Palestine and Israel’s history is to deny that an American or a French person or a Brit or a German had any “special right” to displace the natives by virtue of their religion trumping the religion of the natives. But I would dispute that right in the case of any religion: I’m an atheist. I disagree with the Balfour declaration and the whole Christian idea (linked to in my earlier comment) of declaring Jews non-citizens of the countries they were born in and pushing them off to “the Holy Land”, ignoring the people who already lived there.

    I do not dispute that Israel exists and that the vast majority of its citizens are of Middle Eastern origin. But I’m not going to ignore its whole history in favor of any simplistic narrative.

  32. JDP
    JDP June 10, 2010 at 3:35 am |

    RE: MissaA

    Comments like this always make me wonder what the “right” way for an occupied population to behave is. The rest of your comment seems to say that Palestinians are partly to blame, because they haven’t produced a Gandhi-like leader. Israel is behaving like a settler state, and Palestinians are behaving like an occupied population. I don’t know what the big surprise or disappointment is supposed to be.

    Let’s assume for a second that we completely reject the rights of Jews to engage in self-determination in the Middle East (either because we’ve set up a “no Jews please” cordon around the Middle East in general, or because we’ve decided that historically dispersed peoples do not have rights to self-determination like good settled people do). So, for the sake of argument, we’re going to assume that Palestine has a right to exist as the homeland of Palestinians, and Israel does not have the right to exist as a homeland for Jews, and Palestinian resistance against the State of Israel is entirely just.

    So let’s assume all this for just a second.

    Now, knowing that Israel is a nation comprised of refugees from genocide and ethnic cleansing in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, and knowing that many of these refugees are either still alive or have left behind children who are still very upset by their parents’ plight, which of the following do you think is most likely to provoke a negative response?

    A. Tough, ongoing diplomatic negotiations that take into account the needs of both parties and will ultimately lead to a livable solution for both parties, even if not the ideal solution.
    B. Peaceful civil disobedience meant to make the stronger party decide on their own that their policies are untenable.
    C. Combination of A and B.

    or are you going to choose:
    D. Kill a bunch of their civilians, especially targeting schools and celebrations, all while marching in the streets with guns and proclaiming that you’re going to kill every last one of them, specifically alluding to the most serious experience of genocide this people has ever experienced.

    The question of whether Israel is a colonial project, the question of where Jews can and cannot live, how many Jews should be allowed to live there, whether those Jews should be able to vote, and whether those Jews should be allowed to vote for Jews if they so desire, etc. are completely separate from the central question of whether it advances the peace process for Palestinian militant organizations to parade in the street shouting out things that sound a lot like they’re threatening to commit genocide, especially alongside terrorist violence targeting civilians.

  33. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac June 10, 2010 at 3:43 am |

    often with the power of having money to outbid the local tenant farmers.

    I apologise for any inadvertent offense given by this comment: I was thinking about the power people from any cash-based economy have when they enter a non-cash based economy: the comparative wealth of people from developed countries when settling in an undeveloped country.

  34. Richard Jeffrey Newman
    Richard Jeffrey Newman June 10, 2010 at 5:58 am |

    djf:

    But when you refer to Jews as “western colonists” and contrast them with “the natives”, you deny the Jewish claim to the land of Israel. That’s not okay. As far as I can tell, nobody here is denying the Palestinian or Muslim claims to the land. Stop denying the Jewish claim. Stop using language implying that Jews don’t belong in Israel.

    To point out that Western European and American Zionists did, and often still do, behave as colonists in their settling of Israel, and to point out that those westerners were and are not native to Israel, is neither to deny the Jewish connection to that land nor to suggest that Jews don’t belong there. Rather it is to call into question the way in which at least some (though I think some implies a smaller percentage than is historically accurate) Jews who were and are not native to the land went and continue to go there.

    I have been uncomfortable for a very long time with the notion that there is a Jewish claim to the land, one that includes me, is made in my name, in a way that is analogous to the claim I have on my car, which I own free and clear. By saying this, I am not trying to erase all the historical reasons (right on up to the Holocaust and continually hinted at in the way Jews are often targeted when people are angry at Israel) why we have needed a safe haven, nor am I trying to deny, for those of us who are religious, the significance of the “Holy Land” in their beliefs and traditions, nor am I trying to deny that there are Jews for whom Jewish nationalism is a deep and compelling aspect of their identity.

    I got called away from the computer and I don’t remember precisely what I was going to say next, but it had to do with unpacking the notion of claim. Sorry, I will come back to say more if I can. As well, for anyone who might not have seen the links on the other Helen Thomas thread, I have just republished on my blog a series I wrote after the Israeli invasion of Gaza called “What We Talk About (and Don’t Talk About) When We Talk About (and Don’t Talk About) antisemitism and Israel” that people might be interested in.

  35. Ellid
    Ellid June 10, 2010 at 6:21 am |

    Thank you, Shoshie.

  36. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac June 10, 2010 at 7:23 am |

    Dan: You can’t cherry-pick language and rhetoric from the mid 19th century and apply it to the contemporary situation.

    I wasn’t doing that.

    I was pointing out, if anything, that the history of Palestine / Israel includes the period from the 1840s to the 1920s: that discussing the history of Zionism includes discussing how Christians argued for Jews to “go home” to “the Holy Land”, dismissing Jewish citizenship in countries of origin and “offering” a country that was not, in point of fact, theirs to offer.

    In 1840, Israel was “a land without a people” not because the Arabs were brown and therefore considered invisible or subhuman, but because because there were barely any people there.

    In 1840, Israel did not exist: the country Palestine existed, with farms, villages, towns, and cities, which were inhabited by Muslims, Christians, and Jews, all of them brown-skinned and ethnically pretty similiar, but: Palestine was geopolitically a part of the vast Ottoman Empire (just as the Netherlands was once part of the vast Hapsburg Empire): and in the 1840s, white European visitors to the Holy Land simply perceived the land as “empty” not because there were no people there but because there were, in the white colonialist view of things, no people who mattered there.

    DJK: Kill a bunch of their civilians, especially targeting schools and celebrations, all while marching in the streets with guns and proclaiming that you’re going to kill every last one of them, specifically alluding to the most serious experience of genocide this people has ever experienced.

    Sadly, this paragraph can apply to both actions of Israelis towards Palestinians, and Palestinians towards Israelis. That’s part of the complexity, isn’t it? (Except that, as I noted in earlier thread, numerically the better-armed side has always succeeded in killing more civilians than the other side.)

  37. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac June 10, 2010 at 7:28 am |

    just as the Netherlands was once part of the vast Hapsburg Empire

    HaBsburg. Typo. Sorry. :-( I hate that.

  38. chava
    chava June 10, 2010 at 8:18 am |

    What does any of this discussion about Israel is-or-is-not an a colonialist state/does-or-does-not have a right to exist have to do with whether or not what HT said was anti-Semitic?

    Unless, of course, what ya’ll are really getting at is that “the Jews” really SHOULD go back to Poland and Germany, or that Israel’s behavior is so deplorable it makes such a suggestion ok? Cause that’s the only reason I can figure you’re still on about this in a thread * fundamentally not about it.*

    Basically, what Shoshie said:

    “People have pulled out every trick in the book to silence what we have to say. We’re being to sensitive. Let’s actually talk about what the Israeli government is doing, instead of your pain. It’s just her opinion. I know Jews who weren’t offended. Consider her perspective. Geez. And from activists who should totally know better. That’s been far more hurtful than Helen Thomas’ original remark.”

    I am ALL FOR talking about the history of some of the things Jesurgislac has mentioned (sp. racism against Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews, etc) But why is talking about them right here, on this thread, the appropriate venue, unless to suggest that HT was right?

  39. Q Grrl
    Q Grrl June 10, 2010 at 9:11 am |

    @Shoshie

    Unlike Sarah, for me, Israel has always been an important part of my identity. It’s the only place where I felt like I could fully relax. People understood what food I could eat and couldn’t eat. I wasn’t going to have to have a long, drawn out discussion of why I couldn’t be somewhere on Friday night, but Sunday was OK. There were religious extremists, but they were my kind of religious extremists. I could understand their beliefs, in some strange, twisted way, and avoid invoking their ire. I didn’t have to worry about being told that my holiday didn’t exist or that I was lying about my religion to get away with stuff. People could pronounce my name. Wow. That was really incredible. It was this amazing experience, not having to worry about those things, even as it was the middle of the Second Intifada and there were so many other things to worry about.

    This is very beautifully written. Thank you.

  40. Thomas
    Thomas June 10, 2010 at 9:29 am |

    “There were Western colonists who came from Europe and North America in the 19th and early 20th century who settled in Palestine and who were not “native” to the Middle East – their only connection with Palestine was religious tradition. ” [emphasis supplied]

    Jesurgislac, if you are saying that the members of a diaspora have no claim to their place of origin if they are born somewhere else in the world, then as a diaspora Scot, I take offense. There’s plenty of room to discuss what the connection means, but to argue that it does not exist is an affront to every person, everywhere, whose ancestors were dispersed by forces beyond their control. That would be saying that the Oneida born in Wisconsin have “no connection” to upstate New York, that the Boston Irish have “no connection” to Ireland, and that the Armenians born in the US have “no connection” to Armenia. I disagree in the strongest terms.

  41. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac June 10, 2010 at 9:31 am |

    What does any of this discussion about Israel is-or-is-not an a colonialist state/does-or-does-not have a right to exist have to do with whether or not what HT said was anti-Semitic?

    I don’t know. Ask Dan. My comments were in response to Dan’s.

    Cause that’s the only reason I can figure you’re still on about this in a thread * fundamentally not about it.*

    If this thread is *fundamentally not about it*, then I apologise for responding to Dan’s raising the topic: I should have waited for a mod to point out to Dan that he was raising extraneous issues and thus derailing the thread.

  42. Colleen
    Colleen June 10, 2010 at 10:03 am |

    Jesurgislac:

    To acknowledge that part of Palestine and Israel’s history is to deny that an American or a French person or a Brit or a German had any “special right” to displace the natives by virtue of their religion trumping the religion of the natives.

    I am not sure how far back in history you are allowed to go to establish “claim”. That figure always seems to change based on who is talking and what the discussion is about. 60 is perfect for this argument, 150 is too long for that person, 300 years is not long enough (i.e. Native Americans). However, the claim to land in Israel is not strictly a religious “right”. Jews were forced off that land by Rome 1000 years ago and for a LARGE portion of recorded human history have lived in some small and some large part on that land. Jews were not in Europe by their own choice any more than African Americans ended up in America of their own choice.

    The desire during the 1800s and especially after WWII was to finally go back to the land they were forcibly removed from and form a protection from further anti-semitism. Yes, colonialism played a part in the formation of Israel as a country because NOBODY wanted the Jews. Not as a religious group but as a people. On the flip side, an equal amount of blame needs to be laid at the door of the surrounding Arab nations who feel the EXACT same way about the Palestinians.

  43. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac June 10, 2010 at 10:05 am |

    Thomas: Jesurgislac, if you are saying that the members of a diaspora have no claim to their place of origin if they are born somewhere else in the world, then as a diaspora Scot, I take offense

    And as a native-born Scot, I take offense at so-called “diaspora Scots” who so frequently show up, online or in real life, and make their Brigadoon Scotland the default version that trumps our own experience. [Cut considerable offtopic ranting about suchlike stuff: let me link you to a summary post on the topic, Who Writes Scottish Fantasy?]

    The Scottish National Party in fact dealt with this question of “tartan genes” back in the 1970s, when they decided, as a nationalist party, that their definition of a Scot was someone either born in or living in Scotland – not someone who was born in North America who could come back to Scotland for a two-week visit and get sold any amount of tartan tat for t heir “ancestral clan”. My neighbors the Husseins who run the local shop are more Scottish than you are, thank you very much.

  44. Sailorman
    Sailorman June 10, 2010 at 10:11 am |

    The frustrating thing about these conversations is that they so quickly devolve (on both sides) into things which are simply Not Possible In This World, and therefore Not Helpful: All Jews leave! All Palestinians convert to Judaism! Open borders for all, everywhere, who cares about nations and countries and terrorists and armies and stuff!

    There are people who like to seriously argue, for example, about whether Israel should exist. But it is probably obvious to everyone involved–if not, it should be–that the “dissolve Israel” option is not seriously on the table; nor is the “everyone leave and go back to wherever” option; nor is the “all Palestinians move to Cairo” option.

    Overton window-type arguments aside, any actual solution is going to require a degree of attention to reality. And it’s going to require a degree of attention to politics. And it is CERTAINLY going to require the ability to understand and acknowledge the varying interests of both sides.

    The people on both poles of the argument do a comparatively shitty job at that understanding, and I’m certainly including both the far left pole and the far right pole in that statement. If you think that the matter is “clear,” “obvious,” “one sided,” deserving of a single convenient-to-your-side label, etc…. frankly, your contributions (if you can call them that) are probably doing more to fuck the situation up than to solve it.

    And that makes me wonder whether those people who “want peace” are really bullshitters who are gunning for a fight. If you want “peace” but only on your terms, and if the “peace terms” you request fail to take into consideration any of the reality of the situation, you don’t really want peace. You just want a moral war–or a holy war, depending on where you get the foundation of your demands.

    It’s so obvious even with the blockade. There are a lot of competing views about the blockade: exactly what should go in, how it should happen, how it should be enforced, whether a blockade is effective, what should generally be done about Gaza; how to handle it… All those are valid and interesting and realistic issues to put on the table. But it takes a one-sided and idiotic person to suggest that Israel can do absolutely anything it wants, or to suggest that Gazans must simply grin and bear anything at all. Just as it takes a one-sided and idiotic person to suggest that Israel must open all of the borders and take no action against a quasi-hostile, quasi-military force, or to suggest that Israel can’t act to secure the safety of its own citizens.

    Yes these views keep on coming up. Sometimes they come up directly. More often they come up through omission: a single-minded focus on the benefits/costs to one side of the conflict, without any recognition of the other side.

    Why? How can people be that irrational?

  45. Dan
    Dan June 10, 2010 at 11:05 am |

    [quote]
    In 1840, Israel did not exist: the country Palestine existed, with farms, villages, towns, and cities, which were inhabited by Muslims, Christians, and Jews, all of them brown-skinned and ethnically pretty similiar, but: Palestine was geopolitically a part of the vast Ottoman Empire (just as the Netherlands was once part of the vast Hapsburg Empire): and in the 1840s, white European visitors to the Holy Land simply perceived the land as “empty” not because there were no people there but because there were, in the white colonialist view of things, no people who mattered there.
    [/quote]

    No. It’s always been Israel to the Jews. It’s been ruled by numerous powers since antiquity, but the Jews consider themselves indigenous to the area; the first Arabs came as imperial conquerers when they took it from the Romans.

    And it was literally pretty empty in the mid-19th century. Jerusalem was populated, and there was some farming in the West Bank near the river, and some population around the coastline, but we’re talking about fewer than 250,000 people in the entire region when European Jews began migrating to Israel in the mid 19th century. The population was limited by access to water.

    Many of the Palestinians’ ancestors migrated into the area after the Jews began returning to work as laborers as technological advances made cultivation of the land possible.

    As for the relevance of this to Helen Thomas and her comments, the most charitable way to interpret her position is that she believes the Arabs to be native to the region, and the Jews to be European imperialist oppressors. This is a narrative frequently grafted onto the situation by pro-Palestinian activists. It isn’t accurate.

  46. JDP
    JDP June 10, 2010 at 11:06 am |

    RE: Sailorman

    How can people be that irrational?

    Because those sorts of comments have nothing to do with the Israel-Palestine conflict. If the Israel-Palestine conflict was about Israel and the Palestinians, it would have been over back in 1998.

  47. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac June 10, 2010 at 11:09 am |

    Sailorman, I think one route in to understanding your last question is to ask “When am I perceived by other people as being that irrational? What am I doing / thinking / saying when other people think I’m being irrational?”

    (For me, the short answer is: it feels like I’m caring TOO MUCH that someone is WRONG ON THE INTERNET. I know when I’m likely to come across as irrational-to-others it is almost invariably some topic of key importance to me… equality for LGBT people, abortion on demand, an end to rape culture etc. Of course I am never irrational, no, absolutely not!! But yeah… I can read comments of mine on these topics from years back and think “Hm, I still AGREE with everything I said, but I can understand why other people were backing away slowly and going, “Crazy person here!”)

    The other thing I came back to say – I think now I was wrong to respond to Dan’s comment and I apologise for that: not that I take back anything I said, but I take responsibility for my part derailing the thread from a discussion that was interesting to me to read, into a discussion that we have already had to the wearisome mod-shuts-it-down end. Sorry.

  48. Dan
    Dan June 10, 2010 at 11:33 am |

    Jesurgislac advocates the latest thinking on how to turn the entirety of Israel into a Palestinian state. If Israel annexes the West Bank and Gaza, the combined state will have an Arab majority.

    That demographic reality has been foreseeable for some time, although Palestinian militants are just now figuring out that they should be calling for annexation, and right-wing Israelis and Jewish fanatics are just now realizing that there’s no way they can keep “Judea” and “Samaria.”

    Israel pulled its occupying troops out of the West Bank and Gaza and transferred power there over to the PA in part to discourage the international community from backing a combined-state solution. The only acceptable final-status endgame is two states, at peace.

    It’s delusional to think that the Jews will hand over their country and their military peaceably to the Arabs, and become a minority in an Arab state. And if they did, the result would probably wind up being an ethnic purge. The Palestinians may be a progressive cause, but the thinking and politics of some of the major Palestinian factions is positively medieval.

  49. Partial Human
    Partial Human June 10, 2010 at 12:21 pm |

    An honest question here:
    I belong to a persecuted minority, one that was also deliberately targeted by the Third Reich’s Holocaust regime. Many of my people were murdered. Even today we are a targeted group, and depending on location or ‘punishment’ ranges from being denied basic civil liberties, to being tortured and killed on a daily basis. We face discrimination and violence that is officially sanctioned, we are denied employment, housing, adequate healthcare.

    Some of us live in ‘ghettos’, surrounded by our own and relatively safe, but the rest of us must try and survive in a world where our culture, lifestyle, and very personhood are attacked and vilified, especially by the religious of all stripes, who force us to either ‘convert’ or be shunned, torn away from our loved ones. Live alone as who we are, or live a lie, that’s the choice for many of us.

    Where is my homeland, where do I belong? Where do I get to go that’s filled with people who automatically understand me and my culture, who do not put a price on my head, who understand what I do/don’t do without question? Where is this place that will recognise and honour my beliefs, my dress-codes? Please tell me.

    Do I, as a persecuted minority, get to colonise, terrorise and ‘sanitise’ my choice of homeland? My people have been around since the beginning of time, but we have no sacred texts that claim we are special, and chosen, and better than every other human, so I suppose we don’t deserve a safe home where our families can live.

    So do we do that, do we force ourselves onto someone elses land based on hearsay from thousands of years ago, or do we learn to live where we are? Do we claim the nationality and heritage of the very places that belittle us, or do wall ourselves off in special little communities where laws are flouted, where the original residents are cast aside and refused fair rents or jobs based on their ‘inferior’ background? Or, do we accept that there are no superior humans, that we all deserve rights and freedoms and a safe place to live, and work so that we keep our culture and traditions while also being proud of where we’re from, rather than who we are, and longing for some mythical homeland that is not, and never was, ours?

    Someone please tell me that.

  50. Partial Human
    Partial Human June 10, 2010 at 12:23 pm |

    That should be ‘our punishment ranges…’, sorry.

  51. Mickie T
    Mickie T June 10, 2010 at 12:33 pm |

    My history is similar to Shoshie’s.

    Re: Heroism: As far as removing people from one’s personal hero list, I don’t think that’s such a big deal. My list of prominent people I admire has constantly changed my entire life. I feel about Helen Thomas the same way I’ve felt about Woody Allen, Charles Grodin, Joe Piscipo, Christine Quinn (openly-lesbian NYC City Council President), Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, et al, et al…..

    to wit: You are smart, famous, artistic, talented adults, constantly in the public eye; you’ve mastered a style, or pushed the envelope, or broke barries. Then you go and fuck it up. You are off my list, jerks!

    Re: intention or santiy of Helen Thomas: I think Helen Thomas knew exactly what she was saying when she said “certain people” should go back to Germany or Poland. Nobody makes that statement as a “metaphor.”

    ” In 1995, then-Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey famously referred to [Barney] Frank as “Barney Fag” in a press interview. Armey apologized and said it was “a slip of the tongue”. Frank did not accept Armey’s explanation, saying “I turned to my own expert, my mother, who reports that in 59 years of marriage, no one ever introduced her as Elsie Fag.”

  52. Thomas
    Thomas June 10, 2010 at 12:56 pm |

    Jesurgislac, you and your neighbors are certainly Scots, and native Scots. I’m a diaspora Scot, not because of genes (quite irrelevant, IMO; if I adopt a child that child will be as much a diaspora Scot as my genetic offspring) but because of a direct line of cultural descent passed down from generation to generation. We have our own cultures. We have holidays like Tartan Day that are barely or totally unrecognized in Scotland except when MSPs decide to meddle in the parade we put together.

    I won’t tell you how to be a native Scot, I’ll thank you not to tell me how to be a diaspora Scot, Scottishness as a whole is a joint project where I’m neither interested in excluding folks nor ceding ground to anyone, and the SNP is a political party with its own interests who can tell me how to define myself immediately after hell freezes over and Satan rides down Fifth Avenue on a Zamboni.

  53. Partial Human
    Partial Human June 10, 2010 at 5:14 pm |

    Thomas- but that’s the thing, Scot=/= Jew. You are a product of the country you were born in, and where you were raised. Inventing customs like ‘Tartan Day’ does not make you a Scot, just as drinking Guinness and celebrating St Patrick’s Day does not confer Irishness.

    If you were not born in Scotland, have never lived in Scotland, you aren’t a Scot by anyone’s definition. Do white Americans really feel so threatened by their own identity that they need to appropriate from other cultures? By your logic, “Oh 5 generations back someone wore tartan, so we’re Scotch the ‘noo!” then everyone on Earth is African.

    I hereby declare today ‘Kazungu Day’, when we can all claim our African heritage regardless of skin tone, nationality, or creed, and celebrate by eating inyumbati mixed with matoke, and wearing pagnes. Iki n’iki m’wizi? If you can do it, so can everyone else.

  54. chava
    chava June 10, 2010 at 5:59 pm |

    “Do I, as a persecuted minority, get to colonise, terrorise and ’sanitise’ my choice of homeland? My people have been around since the beginning of time, but we have no sacred texts that claim we are special, and chosen, and better than every other human, so I suppose we don’t deserve a safe home where our families can live.”

    …….Seriously? You want to discard the fact that most Jews today don’t think that way, fine. But you might want to know that your ignorance of our culture post-Holocaust is showing, badly.

    Look, we didn’t “deserve” the land. We took the land, through a rather complex confluence of factors, some more right and some less right, and some downright wrong, that amount to the same thing–we took the land and created a nation. This is how most all nations are made, if you look far back enough in the history books. How you feel morally about nation-building as a whole is really up to you, but Israel is no different than the U.S., certainly, and most nations I can think of through history in terms of how it was founded.

    (None of this changes the fact that the situation in Gaza is reprehensible. But we can talk about it without resorting to the “oooh all Jews believe they are special” BS.)

    None of which changed the fact that the great-grandchildren of the people who took the land did not deserve to be told to “go back to Germany” by an American white lady.

  55. JDP
    JDP June 10, 2010 at 6:40 pm |

    I assume that PH is trying to argue that, because a national sovereignty movement is not feasible for LGBTQ individuals, it shouldn’t be acceptable for Jews and other diasporic peoples. This seems doubly disingenuous to me. First, a solution does not need to be perfect for everyone in order to make it justifiable. Zionism has been, overall, a positive civil rights movement for Jews. The big sticking point is that accidents of history and misbehavior of individuals and groups (on all sides of the question) have made it so that Zionism has caused suffering for the Palestinians. This is pretty terrible, but most reasonable people can agree that the problem can be solved without a wholesale rejection of Zionism.

    Secondly, the arguments against Jewish political migration can be turned against political migration of other oppressed groups, including LGBTQ individuals. Should LGBTQ individuals be allowed to claim refugee status when fleeing persecution? I think they should. Should LGBTQ individuals be allowed to move voluntarily to boroughs, cities, states, or countries with a reputation for being queer-friendly, even if such migration threatens to change the politics and character of that borough, city, state, or country? I think they should.

    There are forms of homophobia and transphobia that cannot be “dealt with where you are.” This is a horrible, terrible thing, and no one should have to deal with it. Similarly, there are forms of antisemitism that cannot be dealt with by just staying somewhere and enduring it. To say that Jews need to continue to endure this because LGBTQ individuals haven’t found a reliable alternate approach that works for them….that’s not an acceptable viewpoint to me.

  56. JDP
    JDP June 10, 2010 at 6:42 pm |

    RE: Chava:

    None of which changed the fact that the great-grandchildren of the people who took the land did not deserve to be told to “go back to Germany” by an American white lady.

    Thomas is Lebanese-American. I am unsure of whether she identifies as White. I think you’re being unfairly dismissive of this.

  57. MissaA
    MissaA June 10, 2010 at 7:46 pm |

    I’m sorry for continuing with the derailment, I shouldn’t have been off-topic in the first place. But since JDP asked me a question I’d like to respond. And then, JDP, if you want to continue, can we do so in the thread about Tony Judt’s article?

    @ JDP

    Let’s assume for a second that we completely reject the rights of Jews to engage in self-determination in the Middle East … because we’ve decided that historically dispersed peoples do not have rights to self-determination like good settled people do).

    Now, knowing that Israel is a nation comprised of refugees from genocide and ethnic cleansing in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, and knowing that many of these refugees are either still alive or have left behind children who are still very upset by their parents’ plight, which of the following do you think is most likely to provoke a negative response?

    I wasn’t saying that Palestinians have been particularly reasonable or strategic. I’m saying that people in their situation have tended to behave similarly. And that radicalization is unsurprising considering their experience. People often cite the shortcomings of Palestinian leadership as reason for the continuing conflict, and I was responding to someone who did so. I’m saying that it seems odd to expect more from them given our knowledge of human behaviour and psychology. The circumstances in which they live are not conducive to the production of diplomats. I think the onus is on Israel to encourage moderation because they control the circumstances which inspire radicalization.

    The question of whether Israel is a colonial project…

    It’s has settlements. It’s a settler state. I’ve used “settler state” interchangeably with “colonial state”, since most of the world’s settler states were also colonies, but maybe I shouldn’t have. I don’t know enough colonial theory to say whether the two can be separated. But it’s that Israel is a settler state that’s relevant, it’s behaving as settler states do. And there’s no question about that.

    … the question of where Jews can and cannot live, how many Jews should be allowed to live there, whether those Jews should be able to vote, and whether those Jews should be allowed to vote for Jews if they so desire, etc. …

    Wuh? What do these questions have to do with the discussion? Is this with reference to your counter-factual? Or whether the creation of Israel was just? Or radical Palestinian groups wanting to deny basic human rights to Jews?

    …are completely separate from the central question of whether it advances the peace process for Palestinian militant organizations to parade in the street shouting out things that sound a lot like they’re threatening to commit genocide, especially alongside terrorist violence targeting civilians.

    I think it’s pretty obvious that it doesn’t.

    However, displacing people, destabilizing their lives, limiting access to jobs, medical treatment, and education, and depriving them of access to basic amenities, as part of a colonial/settler project, does make it more likely that those people will react the way that you describe. That was the point that I was making.

  58. chava
    chava June 10, 2010 at 7:49 pm |

    Being unfairly dismissive of her ancestry, her argument, or of the Israel-Palestine issue and how it relates to what she said?

    As for her being Lebanese-American, that I didn’t know. So yes, that would be unfair to off the cuff characterize her as white. Of her argument/comments, I don’t think am being particularly unfairly dismissive.

    Of the Israel Palestine issue–well…. I’ve thought a lot about it, and often at the end of the day my thinking does come down to what I said above. When you distill it into a single paragraph it does sound a bit curt, but there it is.

  59. JDP
    JDP June 10, 2010 at 8:38 pm |

    RE: Chava:

    Being unfairly dismissive of her ancestry

    This. Her argument is reprehensible, and it is wrong of her to try to erase non-Ashkenazi Jews from the discussion. At the same time, we shouldn’t erase her Levantine identity just because she tries to erase ours.

  60. Sailorman
    Sailorman June 11, 2010 at 6:47 am |

    I wasn’t saying that Palestinians have been particularly reasonable or strategic. I’m saying that people in their situation have tended to behave similarly. And that radicalization is unsurprising considering their experience. People often cite the shortcomings of Palestinian leadership as reason for the continuing conflict, and I was responding to someone who did so. I’m saying that it seems odd to expect more from them given our knowledge of human behaviour and psychology.

    Sure!

    Just remember, of course, that Israel and many of the Jews within it are also colored by experience, whether it be the Shoah or something else.

    That doesn’t mean everything israel does is OK, but it is inaccurate to frame only Palestinians as being shaped by their experience, etc.

  61. JDP
    JDP June 11, 2010 at 2:16 pm |

    RE: MissaA:

    I wasn’t saying that Palestinians have been particularly reasonable or strategic. I’m saying that people in their situation have tended to behave similarly. And that radicalization is unsurprising considering their experience. People often cite the shortcomings of Palestinian leadership as reason for the continuing conflict, and I was responding to someone who did so. I’m saying that it seems odd to expect more from them given our knowledge of human behaviour and psychology. The circumstances in which they live are not conducive to the production of diplomats. I think the onus is on Israel to encourage moderation because they control the circumstances which inspire radicalization.

    Except that the radicalization of the Palestinian population does not occur within a bubble. It occurs within a larger context of Muslim antisemitism, which is promoted by powers much larger and much more powerful than Israel. Antisemitism, not just anti-Zionism, has been central not only to European nationalism movements, but also to Muslim nationalist movements in North Africa and the Middle East. There is a reason why Algeria maintains diplomatic relations with France, but has no diplomatic relations with Israel. There’s a reason why Libya maintains diplomatic relations with Italy, but has no diplomatic relations with Israel. And so on. To think that the situation is solely the result of what goes on between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean is either naive or disingenuous.

    It’s has settlements. It’s a settler state. I’ve used “settler state” interchangeably with “colonial state”, since most of the world’s settler states were also colonies, but maybe I shouldn’t have. I don’t know enough colonial theory to say whether the two can be separated. But it’s that Israel is a settler state that’s relevant, it’s behaving as settler states do. And there’s no question about that.

    Except that this is a crap distinction, because settlement does not necessarily imply power dynamics. Are Romani settlements in Europe a crime against indigenous European communities? Are European towns and cities who mobilize legal and physical attacks on Romani settlements justified? Or is it ethnic cleansing and xenophobia for Italians or Romanians or Hungarians or English or French or Spanish or Serbs or Czechs or Slovakians or Poles or Germans to physically assault Romani, burn their homes down, and seek legal authority to expel them, sometimes from land they’ve purchased legally?

    When people oppose Israel as a settlement state or a colonial state, what they’re saying is that refugee people should never be allowed to congregate to such an extent that they change the cultural character of a region. Israel was not “colonized” on the behalf of a more powerful Jewish country elsewhere. It was, however, a destination for refugees from ethnic cleansing in Europe, Russia, North Africa, East Africa, the Middle East, and the Caucasus. Most of these refugees were propertyless and fleeing genocide, ethnic violence, or ethnic cleansing. These were refugees who were rejected by other countries, who were in some cases not even legally allowed to leave the ethnic violence in their countries of origin (e.g. many of the Moroccan Jews, the Russian Jews, European Jews fleeing the Shoah, etc).

    Wuh? What do these questions have to do with the discussion? Is this with reference to your counter-factual? Or whether the creation of Israel was just? Or radical Palestinian groups wanting to deny basic human rights to Jews?

    These issues have everything to do with the discussion, and not just because “radical” (read: mainstream) Palestinian groups use genocidal rhetoric. Apartheid laws concerning Jews are still present in most Arab countries; the Jewish communities have simply left. More importantly, the criticism of Israel generally boils down to whether a dispersed people like the Jews should have the right to congregate and make decisions as a community about their political and social future. This goes for the destruction of the Jewish Pale in Eastern Europe, the attacks on Israel as a “colonial” or “settler” state, the destruction of persistent Jewish communities in North Africa and the Middle East, and the antisemitic rhetoric on “Jewish power” in the United States. Ultimately this stems from a sense of their being an “authentic” culture associated with a territory and a sense that all other cultures in that territory are trying to destroy that “authentic” culture. This is the root of German Volkism, American white supremacism, and many forms of anti-Zionism.

    I think it’s pretty obvious that it doesn’t.

    Which is my point.

    However, displacing people, destabilizing their lives, limiting access to jobs, medical treatment, and education, and depriving them of access to basic amenities,

    I won’t disagree with this. I will however, disagree with this:

    as part of a colonial/settler project,

    does make it more likely that those people will react the way that you describe. That was the point that I was making.

    Palestinians were killing Jews qua Jews long before there was an Israeli state, and long before there existed an Israeli government, and long before the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians were using genocidal rhetoric towards Jews before Israel was declared a state.

    Claiming that the genocidal rhetoric of the Palestinians is solely a response to Jewish crimes against Palestinians is like claiming that the racist and genocidal rhetoric of the KKK was solely a response to exploitation of the collapsed Southern economy by carpetbaggers in post-Civil War America. Arab antisemitism goes back a long ways, and remained latent only because Jews were living under an apartheid system. Note that a lot of the rhetoric has been in the form of “look at what happens when you let Jews into power” or “see, this is part of the global Jewish conspiracy against ‘authentic’ peoples” and has mobilized existing antisemitic stereotypes, including blood libel, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, ZOG, Koranic antisemitism, “Jews killed Jesus”, etc, etc, etc., both in the Muslim world and in the Western media. Instead of criticizing individual Israeli actions, every Israeli action is framed in the context of a larger “Jewish conspiracy” and in terms of traditional antisemitic stereotypes.

    Do Israeli actions exacerbate the hatred on the Arab street? Absolutely. Should the Israelis be aware of this and try to avoid actions, just or unjust, that exacerbate the hatred on the Arab street? Absolutely. But the genocidal rhetoric has been commonplace on the Arab street since before WWII, and it is disingenuous to claim that it has only appeared out of outrage for the post-1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

  62. Richard Jeffrey Newman
    Richard Jeffrey Newman June 11, 2010 at 6:38 pm |

    But the genocidal rhetoric has been commonplace on the Arab street since before WWII, and it is disingenuous to claim that it has only appeared out of outrage for the post-1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

    This is so crucial, not only because of the point JDP makes, but because of something I have noticed in the rhetoric in which some people couch their criticisms of Israel–no one in this conversation, as far as I can tell: they reduce the historical scope of the Jews’ connection to Israel to the aftermath of the Holocaust, erasing almost the entire, complex history of Zionism and framing the Arab–not merely the Palestinian, but the Arab–negative response to Israel’s existence as being only a response to the fact of Israel’s creation and the crimes Israel has committed since then.

  63. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac June 12, 2010 at 10:57 am |

    As a Scot: the issue about “Diaspora Scots” is not greatly what they do about their feelings of “scottishness” in their own country: that’s their affair, it’s none of ours. Americans want to get together and celebrate “Tartan Day”? That’s nice, and I mean that quite seriously. MacSweens exports haggises all over the world for people to eat on Burns Night, or so their website tells me, and while I wouldn’t eat a haggis if you paid me, I think it’s dead sweet that so many people want to celebrate Robert Burns on his birthday.

    Where these foreigners who want to think of themselves as “Scots” do affect us, is partly when, with their superior purchasing power, they cause movies to be made (or novels to be written) which celebrate their fake Scottishness rather than the real nation. But that too is (relatively) trivial: Scotland exists, no matter how many Brigadoon movies are made.

    Mostly, the worst effect, is when these foreigners come to Scotland as tourists and they want “Scottishness”. This is of course a valid source of income in some of the poorest regions of Scotland, making money out of the wealthy visitors who will pay up for being shown what they want to see.

    But homelessness is a serious issue in rural Scotland, and a large part of the reason for that is the tourists: in winter rents go down to a level locals can manage to pay (unless they live somewhere people come for winter sports), but in the tourist season, the homes that locals rented at moderate rates go to the wealthy incomers who can afford to pay much higher for somewhere in “real Scotland”. Building new homes is a problem: the local authorities want to keep the tourists happy by having the countryside look appropriately empty, not filled with solid new council houses.

    A similiar problem seems to have been happening, only worse, in Palestine as Zionists began to settle there in larger and larger numners: they did not originate the white imperialist idea that Palestine was “a country without a people for a people without a country”, but they certainly came, and they certainly bought – land and homes. Tenant farmers who had rented their land from an absentee landlord in Damascus, found themselves dispossessed by Westerners who were asserting a superior right to the land by virtue of their religion, and who could enforce that “superior right” by coming from wealthier countries with cash economies; who could buy and thus dispossess, families who might have been renting the same piece of land for generations.

    I read about this, this period of Palestinian history, and I recognized it: because it has happened in the UK. People with more money, often with a “tradition of Welshness” or a “tradition of Scottishness”, displacing people with less. It’s happened in my own lifetime; it has happened, I don’t doubt, anywhere richer people think their “tradition” gives them a right to displace the people who actually live there.

    We joke about the tourists, in Scotland. We make money out of them, we joke about them behind their backs (and sometimes to their faces, because often for all their Scottishness they have no notion when they’re being made fun of) and there is a genuine and lasting tradition of hospitality, in the Highlands, that says you don’t turn away a guest or do them harm. But: they’re English tourists, American tourists, and the more they’ve got a notion of “Scottishness” in their heads, the more there is to smile at.

    We can afford to simply smile. They have no power over us. They are not entering our country with the intent of displacing us as citizens, of turning us out of our homes forever, of walling us up in internment camps, of enforcing their “Scottishness” as the requirement of citizenship, ensuring that many Scots would be redefined out of it.

    The same was not true for the Palestinians. And still isn’t.

  64. Gsupernova
    Gsupernova June 12, 2010 at 1:01 pm |

    I’m incredibly impressed by how respectful this whole thread has stayed in light of the passionate viewpoints clearly being expressed. As an American atheist Jew disinclined to endorse Israel’s recent actions (and a longtime reader/firsttime commenter), I do not know enough about the conflict to add anything productive to this conversation, but I wanted to thank all of you for keeping the thread this kind without compromising your views and giving me a good start on how to research & educate myself.

  65. Armenian: Used to being ignored
    Armenian: Used to being ignored June 15, 2010 at 2:44 am |

    I am also the descendant of genocide survivors where genocide played a major role in identity formation, and the mother to an half Iraqi Arab child.

    I am used to being ignored . Public officials and personas never get fired or have to resign when they disrespect Armenians, Arabs, ( or in Europe) Gypsies.

    The US doesn’t recognize our genocide for political reasons and right wing as well as mainstream Jewish groups lobby against the recognition as well. Now various pro-occupation Israelis are utilizing the Armenian genocide as political football in the wake of the flotilla deaths.

    Public officials routinely dismiss our history and never hear a peep of protest.
    One politician in the last decade openly called for Arabs to be rounded up if there were another attack in concentrations camps.He used those words.
    He wasn’t fired.
    Arabs , Muslims and non white Jewish West Asians ( Middle Easterners) are vilified in the US media ways that would cause a riot if it were directed at White Jews.

    Also, after seeing my history occasionally (a nd now after the flotilla , opnely by Israeli gov) co-opted by right wing ideologues -though not on the mass scale that other groups are used to, like many of y’all -, as well as Zionists, I can say for sure how it is like killing them -my ancestors-twice by utilizing their death to justify the oppression of others.

    I think some of you feel me on this, no?

    I am having a hard time feeling the justification for the vilification of Helen Thomas , where attacking America’s ‘chosen group to co-opt ‘(Ashkenazi/Jews) and declare any statements but support off-limits. EVery imperialist, racist , colonialist project always chooses one group to to make chosen, and attack the ire away from issues of class and structural inequalities.
    Just so happens that the narrative of chosen-ness is already present in the ethno-narrative of the group/state of today.

    To many of us, it was on par with say, an African of color during apartheid having an outburst and saying the white South AFrikaners should go back to Europe. A hyperbolic statement.

    The not so talked about truth is that the reason non-Jewish people in the US and other Western countries are not okay with criticizing of Jews is that they have never seen y’all as equals; whereas to West Asians ( Armenians, Arabs, Persians, etc) non-European Jews have a history alongside us , being a minority among the mosaic of many.
    Many of these western supporters even harbor, upon interrogation, very anti-Jewish stereotypes that show Jews are physically inferior or weak and in need of ( Western Christian) protection. It seems very condescending and frustrating.

    Again, it just seems frustrating.

    To them , the PTB in the Western Christian world, y’all are the eternal victim.
    To most of us, you , Jews, are, were shoulder to shoulder with us . It’s just your oppressed cousins from Europe came over and went buck wild with bad manners bringing tbhe whole kitchen sink and baggage of Western racism.
    It’s killing us, now.

  66. Julia(2)
    Julia(2) June 16, 2010 at 12:11 am |

    Except that this is a crap distinction, because settlement does not necessarily imply power dynamics. Are Romani settlements in Europe a crime against indigenous European communities? Are European towns and cities who mobilize legal and physical attacks on Romani settlements justified? Or is it ethnic cleansing and xenophobia for Italians or Romanians or Hungarians or English or French or Spanish or Serbs or Czechs or Slovakians or Poles or Germans to physically assault Romani, burn their homes down, and seek legal authority to expel them, sometimes from land they’ve purchased legally?

    With regards to the founding of modern Israel (which was clearly your interpretation in the light of Helen Thomas), okay, but Israel is clearly acting as settler state now w/r/t the West Bank. If you’re seriously using this comparison for the West Bank, it’s completely disingenuous – do European Romani generally impose martial law on locals in the areas they settle, ban construction, bulldoze homes, deny citizenship and nationality, shoot protesters, keep a 24-hour curfew over 300 days of a year, impose numerous checkpoints strangling any movement on days it is allowed at all, capitalize on all access to local aquifers, and divide up the ares they settle with a web of settlements and roads between them that cannot be crossed by any locals, confining them to tiny disparate patches of land and crushing the economy? No? Then perhaps the analogy isn’t very suitable. Of course there is a massive power dynamic here.

    I recognize, of course, that this is NOT the manner in which modern Israel was first founded. Helen Thomas’s suggestion that the original Zionist settlers were comparable to the current colonization of the West Bank was both groundless and stomach-churning.

    But surely there is room to recognize both that Israel has a right to exist, in Israel, and that Israel is fucking colonizing the West Bank?

    I realize this is somewhat of a derailment, considering that the original topic was Helen Thomas and how her statement was clearly an assault on the existence of Israel in Israel. But her being factually and morally wrong on that point does not mean that Israel isn’t in other ways acting as a colonial power, and we should be able to talk about that.
    On the other hand, we probably shouldn’t be talking about that in a blog entry that started off with very personal discussions of Jewish identity. On yet a third hand, the discussion about HT’s remark supplanted discussion about the flotilla and Palestine, and the hundreds of thousands of people currently living in refugee camps, spanning those who have been living there since 1948 to their descendant generations who have only ever lived in the camps. On a fourth hand, that doesn’t mean we need to derail a thread about Jewish identity and I’m diving directly into Oppression Olympics, so as I’ve been out of hands for a while and my head hurts, I’m going to end this comment.

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