Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looming across the World War I "Centennial:" The death of the World War II generation

Before it even commences, the year 2014 is guaranteed to offer at least one landmark moment, the centennial of the outbreak of World War I.
Looking back, the rise and fall of "modern" trench warfare, of the nation-state of Marxist-Leninism and Arab nationalism (to name a few of the conflict's most important progeny) remind me of the tremendous dynamism of this mere hundred-year period.
But as I look forward, the centennial portends more meaningful, drastic change.
In five years, my great-uncle, a US Air Force veteran of D-Day, will reach 100 (if he survives his current frail state and life-threatening cancer). Within the following ten years the vast majority of persons capable of fighting in World War II will have broached the limit of the human lifespan.
Just as a mere twenty years separated the Treaty of Versailles from the invasion of Poland, so will the next two-decades witness the vanishing of the generation that fought in World War II.
The loss of living witnesses to one of humanity's deadliest endeavours is bound to have consequences on international politics, as the war's shadow continues to loom large in both the arenas of international politics and regional politics across the world.
Internationally, the indiscriminate murder of civilians and soldiers in this conflict, whose deathtoll approaches the 70-million mark (including such acts of mass civilian murder as the Holocaust and the "Rape of Nanking") spurred the formation of the United Nations (whose charter's opening preamble explicitly defines the organization as a reaction to the "scourges of war"), which established the first toothful mechanisms of International collective security and the first comprehensive legal definition of universal "human rights."
As a result, any world leader who now engages in non-preemptive offensive combat (e.g. Saddam Hussein in Kuwait)-once a routine part of Realpolitik based on loosely-defined "national interests"-risks being subject to sanctions or military action by the UN Security Council (albeit allocating a permanent veto to shield the Five "Great Powers").
Moreover, the traditional immunity of states and their sovereigns from foreign compulsion even for the worst of atrocities has been challenged in the postwar era by UN-affiliated International Criminal Tribunals, which have indicted of leaders from Milosevic of Yugoslavia to Bashir of Sudan-for committing "crimes against humanity" against their populations.
Perhaps the gravest of these "crimes" (as listed by the ICC), "genocide" was first coined by a Polish Jew named Rapheal Lemkin, who after suffering the death of his entire family in the Holocaust (from which he barely escaped himself) lobbied successfully for the first international convention on mass civilian murder, implemented in 1950.
Even those sovereigns whose power or connections safely shield them from any effective prosecution for either genocidal crimes or aggressive warfare (e.g. President Bush) risk the appellation of "war criminal," "fascist" (or, most egregiously) "Nazi." The latter label, unfortunately, has been put into overdrive in its usage, being applied (for instance) by left-wing student protestors to University administrators or American Conservative groups to environmentalists.
Additionally the War's truly global geography has left powerful but distinct legacies on the politics of disparate regions of the globe.
For Western Europe, the economic and physical ruin wrought by interstate conflict based on aggressive nationalism have stood behind the since-continuous process of European Integration, effectively tying a revived Germany into supranational political and economic structures that make cooperation, rather than competition, the norm.
Across the ocean, the sole unscathed victor, the United States saw in the war a moral precedent for the "just" use of force, with the specter of Totalitarianism serving as a moral baton for the "world's policeman" from Vietnam to Iraq to Libya.
In East Asia, the wartime atrocities of the Japanese Occupation forces add fuel to a potential conflagration with the rising Chinese dragon, especially when right-wing Japanese governments display unrepentant atttitudes.
 And in the Middle East, the ghost of the Holocaust and the legacy of appeasement-a la Munich-provides a powerful analogy for Israeli hawks seeking to stymie Western overtures to Iran and, previously, the Palestinian Authority. (On the flip side, Hitler's Mein Kampf and Holocaust denial serve as popular outlets in the Islamic World as expressions of antagonism towards Israel).                  Now, the loss of eyewitnesses does not mean the loss of memory.
World War II remains a popular subject in film, television and video games and institutions as well as the focal point of entire museums, towering monuments(1, 2) and national holidays (i.e. in Russia and some other post-Soviet states).
Indeed, the increasing distance from the war may enable for commentators in different countries to develop more nuanced portrayals of the conflict (e.g. the 2004 German film, Der Untergang ("Downfall") which gained notoriety, domestically and abroad, for its portrayal of Adolf Hitler as a human being).
Alternatively, the passage of time may allow for simplified nationalist cliches to grow stronger, where the war's history serves as a focal point of conflict (notably in regards to the Arab-Israeli and Chinese-Japanese scenarios).
Scarier still stands the possibility-at some eventual point in time-for global public to lose its acuity to the horrors of militarism and of genocidal disregard for life. (an apathy that, as I pointed nearly a year ago, has already started to creep into America)
The other day, while browsing a leftist blog, I stumbled across a quote by Malcolm X: "History is a people's memory and without a memory, man is demoted to the lower animals."
As the last of the generations to have experienced World War II fades from the planet, the memory of our generation-our parents and our offspring-will shape the history of the past and the politics of the present across the planet.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My troubles with the word "anti-Zionist"

A few days ago, scanning around on the facebook wall of a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, I came across the following: something to the effect of, "a journey from liberal zionism" to Palestine Solidarity.

Its always a pleasure to see fellow Jews coming to grips with the circumstances of the Palestinian struggle (and not from a "pro-Israeli" perspective). But the author's framing of Palestinian solidarity as being in an oppositional dichotomy with Zionism, troubles me just as much as does Phil Weiss's (of Palestinian-activist news website, Mondoweiss) emphatic confession that he is an "anti-Zionist." or the frequent derision of Zionism that I encounter on online forums and Facebook pages of Palestinian solidarity groups.

It is totally understandable that those aware of how the state of Israel was founded (and itsdependence upon a certain degree of ethnic population transfer through expulsion and stymieing any attempts at repatriation of refugees) and the parallels to this Nakba evident in the post-1967 Occupied Territories, wish to place themselves in opposition to the ideology on which the state of Israel (and indeed the Jewish colonization project in Palestine) was predicated.

However the anti-Zionist label comes across to me not merely as problematic but self-defeating for genuine supporters of Palestinian Liberation for two reasons:

Firstly, regardless what many Israelis (and their American supporters) may claim, Zionism-as an abstract ideology (or group of ideologies) advocating Jewish resettlement in the land of Palestine-should by no means be regarded as coterminus with support for a Jewish state in Palestine, much less the one that was established in 1948.

In Zionism's early days, state-oriented "political Zionism," anchored by Theodore Herzl (which only gained true ascendancy following the Biltmore Conference), clashed with the "cultural Zionism" of figures such as Aha Ha'am, who-acknowledging the Arab opposition to state-based colonization efforts in Palestine-supported a more vague ideal of "cultural" renewal. Rabbi Judah Magnes, one of the first Zionists in the American Reform Movement, was the first to propose a "binational state" in the (then-) Palestine Mandate and went so far as to oppose the 1948 partition plan.

As Jerry Haber, in a 2007 blog post entitled "Zionism without a Jewish state" put it, " I don't see what is wrong about trying to preserve what is good about zionism, and, for that matter, the state of Israel, while pushing towards a more liberal and equitable regime," e.g. one that renounces its military occupation and accords equal citizenship rights for its arab citizens while continuing to serve as a center for Jewish culture.

Indeed, equating one's critiques of the apartheid situation evident in the occupied territories and Israel state with opposition to "Zionism" turns a social justice struggle into an ideological one whose message detracts from the substantive goal of equality. 

Secondly, the very term "anti-zionist" will always invoke connotations of anti-semitism due to its historical use (particularly in countries of the former Soviet Union) as a cover for legitimately anti-semitic acts. The most notorious example of this was Poland's "anti-Zionist campaign" of 1968, in which the accusation of treachery by "Zionist" (i.e. Jewish) elements in the population-masked in elements of traditional Eastern European anti-semitic conspiracy theories-was used to purge Jewish members of the Communist Party, resulting in the swift exodus of most of Poland's remaining Jewish population.

Indeed, I speculate that "anti-Zionism" touches such a raw nerve amongst members of the American Jewish Establishment (the controversy surounding Swarthmore Hillel providing the latest proof of this) because of their memory of the anti-antisemitism once carried out in its name.

I mention these points not to draw dishonest comparisons between Palestine solidarity activists and Polish anti-semites nor to accuse the former of ignorance but to inform those who (like myself) are critical of the governing ethnocracy in Israel-Palestine to tread carefully in their use of a heated and not necessarily accurate term.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Planet Israel vs. Planet Palestine

My diplomacy seminar always offers such great reading opportunities. Last week, it was Getting to Yes, a work of Harvard University's "Conflict Resolution Project" that acts as a sort of a "how-to" manual for successful negotiations. (i.e. fairly conducted and producing a mutually-accepted outcome) The secret, according to the authors, is for the two sides to avoid positional bargaining, negotiating on the basis of substantive "interests" rather than rhetorical stances and fostering an atmosphere of mutual understanding  to work out a solution acceptable to both  .
As I read, I could not help being reminded of perhaps the world's longest-running ongoing conflicts (and one that is particularly close to home for me), the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Much of the passion that sustains and aggravates the "conflict" stems not from concrete concerns of land rights or religious divergence but from the total misalignment of Israeli and Palestinian narratives.
For Israelis and (most) members of the Jewish diaspora (a group that I situate on "Planet Israel"), the conflict is exactly what the word implies, a dispute sparked by real estate and aggravated by religious differences. Both sides have equally valid and longstanding claims to the land (based on religious and historical ties) and therefore, a "peace process" that aims at negotiating territorial "sovereignty" with "mutual" concessions (over both laic and religious property (i.e. "borders" and "Jerusalem")), is the way to go.
Of course, some Likudniks might interject that "security concerns" or Palestinian deceitfulness necessitate a more defensible Jewish claim. But since the 1990's Oslo negotiations, the principle of "two states for two peoples" has gradually acquired consensus support, to the point where even Benjamin Netanyahu, formerly the peace process's most ardent opponent, has given lip service..
On the other hand, according to most Palestinians (and Palestinian sympathizers), the root grievance goes back to the founding of the state of Israel, with the so-called "Nakba" of 1948. Under the duress of war, more than 700,000 Arabs fled from the territory of present-day Israel proper, only to be prevented from returning by a newfound "Jewish" state, desiring a majority-Jewish demographic.
The ensuing narrative stresses a continual process of "ethnic cleansing," colonization and a "struggle" against Israeli oppression (both through Israel's Occupation of the Palestinian territories and prevention of the refugees' return).
On planet Israel, the Palestinian demand for a right of return and refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state are perceived as scraps thrown to hardcore irredentists and fundamentalists, who must eventually come around (like the Likud) to pursuing peace on the basis of sovereignty.
Such comparisons send shock waves through Planet Palestine, which perceives the rhetoric of reconciliation and sovereignty as conceitedly ignorant of the need for justice if not a conscious attempt at pedagogical "oppression," a la Freire. Palestinians, it is often said, have no grievance against Jews or even Israel so much as against a "dispossessing" Zionist state-building project.
It is frustrating to see a sixty-five year cycle of antagonism spawn ever more hatred and daily violence when truly constructive steps could be undertaken if only each side were to change its perceptive framework.
Reading Ury and Fisher's book gives me a refreshing reminder, "follow these steps!"
Unfortunately the repeated refusal of the opposing parties to even passively listen to the other's narrative, as evidenced, for instance, by Jewish student organization's attempts to uphold guidelines excluding "anti-" or "non-" zionist, makes the implementation of the Fisher and Ury's strategy remote to even be reassuring.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Wenn die Sonne auf "Sunset" erscheint

Keine Männer
Keine Fräulein
Keine Farbe
Keine Luft

In der Ruhe
Alle klingeln
Im Kopf
Im Herz

Meine Wünsche
sind verschwunden
auf dem Barhocker
wo sie erfunden
hat, eine andere

aber wenn ich steige,
kann ich doch sehen
von Meer bis zentrum
wo sie läuft sicher weg

Denn Himmel ist schwarz aber klar
darüber, in meinem Kopf
aber ich laufe noch
und setze mich fort

Ich hab keine zweifeln
Dass Liebe und Leben
(und Trinkgeld)
quatsch werden,
auf Sunset.