Holy Land Comings and Goings

A couple of interesting items originating from the Holy Land (or by way of the Holy Land) recently.

First off, the Reut Institute – an Israeli think tank that has done valuable and original work on of Israeli domestic and international issues over the last decade – has recently returned to the subject of de-legitimization.

When they turned their attention to this issue a few years ago, the result was this interesting and thoughtful study about the nature of the de-legitimization threat, its strategic significance, and what could be done to build a firewall to protect the Jewish state from this form of diplomatic propaganda.  And building on this “firewall” theme, they recently kicked off a new project – The Firewall Hackathon – designed to put theory into practice.

Similar Hackathons in the past focused on other issues (such as a Tikkun hack-fest that resulted in a number of innovations designed to do good works, such as helping handicapped and protecting the environment).  But next year’s Firewall Hackathon (scheduled for January 4-6, 2015 in Tel Aviv) will revolve around building technologies and that can support those of us battling de-legitimizers, such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions “movement.”

I’ve already submitted a couple of ideas (including one on the Web 2.0 communications gap I’ve long bemoaned).  If you have any suggestions, you can send them to Reut by filling out this simple form.

Second on the list, the University of Haifa has decided to test the American Studies Association’s increasingly wobbly boycott by sending a representative (i.e., someone who will be officially representing an Israeli university in defiance of the organization’s ban) to the ASA’s conference in November.

As noted last week, ASA leaders have spent much of October trying to break-dance their way out of the jam they placed themselves into when they forced a boycott vote on the organization.

Back when they were blaring to the world that their boycott was internationally newsworthy, they tried to make a distinction between boycotting individuals and institutions by insisting that any Israeli was welcome to participate in their events, so long as they did not come as representatives of a now-boycotted college or university.  But once that position placed them into hot water vis-à-vis California’s anti-discrimination law, they started to waffle on the “representative” part, with one ASA hack declaring that Prime Minister Netenyahu could attend if he liked (although they never explained what would happen if he registered as the Prime Minister of Israel).

Well with the CA legal system breathing down their neck, we will now see what happens when the University of Haifa sends someone who refuses to participate as anything other than a representative of his or her institution (in the same manner all scholars from any other country in the world will be representing themselves).  My only hope is that this Haifa representative uses his time at the event to organize as many partnerships as he or she can with ASA members, and perhaps even organizations within ASA (like their East and West Coast branches, both of which soundly rejected the boycott).  What a fun story that would be (which makes it an even greater pity that ASA has banned the media from their event).

Finally, a few weeks back I had an exchange with long-time reader and Times of Israel blogger Mike Lumish (who blogs at his own site) about how we could model some of the meaningful debate that is so lacking whenever the BDSniks show up to spout their accusations and then fly the coop whenever their prejudices are challenged with things like truth and logic.

One of the areas that tend to create controversy within the community of Israel’s supporters is the Left/Right divide with regard to attitudes towards the Jewish state as well as the broader Middle East conflict(s).  And rather than avoid or paper over that issue, Mike and I are going to hash it out over the next several weeks in periodic exchanges that will take place on each of our sites (both articles and comments).

Now there is always the issue of how the question anchoring such a debate should be framed.  Perhaps we can look at the meaning of the Left/Right debate generally, or zero in on the domestic front with a discussion of whether Jews are making an error by continuing to support the Democratic Party by large majorities, even during the current era when a Democratic administration has shown such hostility towards Israel (or at least its leadership).

If you read this series which includes pieces I’ve written over the years on this topic, you’ll have a sense of where I’m coming from with regard to Left-Right issues as they pertain to discussions of the Middle East.  And with that as backdrop, I’d like to suggest a debate topic of whether we should consider the political Left not as an ally or enemy, but as a battleground over which the Arab-Israeli conflict is being fought.

Stay tuned…

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4 Responses to Holy Land Comings and Goings

  1. Michael Lumish October 31, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

    Jon, thank you for raising the discussion.

    I might frame the question like this, although, of course, there are any number of other possibilities.

    “Has the western left, in its general approach to the Arab-Israel conflict in comparison to other conflicts around the world, remained true to its fundamental values of ‘social justice’ and ‘universal human rights’?”

    That is one way of framing the question.

    Let’s decide on wording and then we’ll see just where we agree or disagree.

    In the mean time, I will post a notification on Israel Thrives to alert my readership to this discussion.


    • DivestThis November 3, 2014 at 1:10 pm #

      Happy to start with that, in which case I would respond by rephrasing my original question (over whether the Left should be considered a friend, an enemy or a battlefield) as a potential answer to *your* question.

      Before going there, I first suggest we determine what should be considered “fundamental values of the western left.”
      Both critics and supporters of this end of the political spectrum could probably come up with answers to that question, but I propose (through an application of the “Principle of Charity” – http://divestthis.com/2010/07/the-principle-of-charity.html) that the leftist values (or virtues) we focus on are tolerance and fairness.

      Tolerance would include not just acceptance of people (regardless of their race, class, nationality, gender and sexual orientation) but broad acceptance of other people’s beliefs. And fairness includes not just economic fairness (I try to avoid loaded terms like “justice”) but the sense that people who have been treated unfairly in the past (such as slaves or victims of imperialism) deserve recognition if not recompense.

      I think these two descriptions would pass an important test of the Principle of Charity, namely, if I provided them to someone who strongly associates with the “western left,” they would accept them as accurately stating their positions.

      As some commenters on your own site have pointed out, by these terms the blind acceptance of the Palestinian narrative in the Arab-Israeli conflict is in violation of each of these principles. For those that embrace the idea of Israel as villain to the exclusion of everything else going on in the Middle East (including within Palestinian society) are required to ignore genuine human suffering by tolerating intolerance and defining as “fairness” one side in a conflict getting everything it wants.

      Now if the western left was an undivided entity that embraced this position, then the answer to your question would be a simple “No” (and we could draw this debate to a close in one exchange). But given that what we are calling the western left includes everyone from the Democratic Party in the US (which still supports Israel 2:1 over her enemies) to the Communist parties of Europe, I think we are seeing a battle for the heart of leftism (if not broader liberalism) in which a group of single-issue partisans (Israel haters) are trying to convince anyone with left-of-center leanings that they must embrace an anti-Israel position or live in betrayal of progressive values.

      At the same time, many other people who lean left (including many of our readers) have rejected the notion that their political worth gets to be judged by someone with an axe to grind (just as they rejected claims by hard-core Marxists in the 20th century who said any liberal who would not submit to their leadership was a traitor to the progressive cause). Which would support my assertion that the left is neither friend nor foe, but the ground on which an important battle over Israel (and the entire Middle East) is being fought.

      Over to you…

      • Michael Lumish November 4, 2014 at 6:54 pm #

        I will front page a response at Israel Thrives sometime within the next few days to a week because I want to give your points the consideration that they deserve.

        I fully agree that tolerance and fairness represent the fundamental values of the left, as the left sees itself, and I cannot disagree that the question that I raise above should really be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”

        To the extent that I have made that claim in the past – here, there, or elsewhere – I was mistaken.

        The question then goes to inclinations. In what direction, viz-a-viz anti-Zionism, and therefore fundamental progressive-left principles, is the left moving?

      • fizziks November 7, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

        Hey Jon, I just read this comment of yours. I really agree with it.

        I’ll put my voice in here and say that it is simply not accurate anymore to place politics onto a line and divide it in half with “the left” on one side and “the right” on the other. First of all, this leads as you pointed out to the absurdity of both Bill Clinton and a hardcore Trotsyist being together as “the left”, when they clearly disagree on much more than they agree. The same should be said for putting George Will and the Golden Dawn together as “the right”. What positions do these supposed ideological allies, according to this outdated binary division, actually have in common? Hardly anything.

        Furthermore, as I have maintained for some time, the far left and far right are in the process of merging into a single ideological entity, so that the political spectrum, if anything, is more circular. Examine their positions, not how they self-identify or are classified by others, and ask yourself: is Alex Jones on the left or right? Ron Paul? Oliver Stone? Putin? In each of those cases, you will find a mishmash of traditionally leftist and traditionally rightist opinions.

        So, I will state here that I think that this attempt to investigate what the “western left” (or the “western right” for that matter) do or say about any given thing is just pointless masturbation. These categories are too broad and too outdated to have any practical meaning. This is a true time waster.

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