Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Years and upcoming Journey to Israel-Palestine

For once, I will not be getting intoxicated this New Year's Eve. That is because early tomorrow morning, at 10:46am, I will be boarding a flight for Tel Aviv, beginning a ten-day educational trip to Israel-Palestine with the Olive Tree Initiative.

It will have been exactly a decade since I last set foot in the region.

The circumstances on the ground will have drastically changed, as has the nature of my trip.

In my last journey, made during the dying days of the Second Intifada, I encountered a nation locked down under the (purely) psychological siege of suicide bombers and ready to brutally retaliate against the "existential threat" of Palestinian militancy, whether from the secular Fatah or religious Hamas.

Today, with most of the "Separation Barrier" (or "Security Fence," per Israel, completed), Israelis not only are freer from violence than they have ever been in their state's tumultuous history but they have become ever more detached from the troubles of the Occupation. The experience of the Intifada, however, continues to embitter many, even on the Left, towards Palestinian nationalism. As a result, the silent majority of Jewish Israel cares about doing nothing to change the status quo.

On a personal level, my political orientation has changed from Zionist to non-Zionist in the course of time.

Since I traveled with a Jewish Day School on my last trip, I was naturally immersed in a traditional Zionist milieu. We traveled only to sites associated with Jewish history (e.g. Jerusalem, Masada, the Palmach Museum), avoiding even rest stops in Palestinian towns. The maps we received showed an "Israel" that encompassed towns like Hebron and Schehem, from the river to the sea...

This trip, I will be traveling with a Conflict education group, dedicate to equal exposure of both sides. In the course of 10 days, I will traverse Israel-Palestine, warts and all, from the Separation Barrier to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Western Wall to the Golan Heights.

Through it all, I hope to gain first-hand observations that can substantiate (or challenge?) the nuanced positions that I have acquired through years of research on the subject.

I hope everyone has a happy New Year and hope to have lots to discuss on my return.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Los Angeles' New York moment

I was inspired to write this post while waiting for Lyft requests at 2am in the late-night, on Tuesday (technically Wednesday). More accurately, I was parked on the corner of La Brea Avenue and First street in the number of Miracle Mile watching, to my surprise, a rather steady cascade of cars pass by.

 This was no traffic jam for sure,but rather a steady flow of traffic that indicated, if anything, that even on this odd hour on a weeknight, life was happening.

This, in turn, brought to mind the Halloween weekend, on which Beverly Blvd backed up for over a mile, from La Cienaga Blvd. to Doheny Drive. For most of the two point five miles that I drove, from around Highland Avenue to Doheny, traffic moved at a snail's pace. Meanwhile sidewalks, at every stretch of the journey, teemed with costumed-clad many walking, as waiting for a car.

For eons, Los Angeles has been ridiculed as a subpar exemplar of a Global metropolis. Huxley's quip about  "Nineteen suburbs in search of a city" captures the perceived lack of urban contiguity and, indeed, cosmopolitanism, quite wittily.

However, lately, the city has accrued a remarkable degree of cosmopolitan urbanism that can be seen almost as a coming of age.

Part of this has come in the form of a diversified, respectable food culture (with Los Angeles recently being named the best food city in America). The sophisticated theater and arts scene in this once-named "city of plastic" have also drawn acclaim.

But perhaps the biggest boon to Los Angeles' status as a city has come in the form of an increasingly concentrated population.
 It is no longer a secret that Los Angeles is one of the five densest cities in the country (if not the densest, depending on the measure you use).LA boasts a concentration of people and events that once associated with cities like NEW YOrk.
Moreover, this density appears to be considerably concentrated, particularly focusing on what one USC grad student calls a "Santa Monica-Wilshire corridor" stretching linerly across the central LA basin.
True, there are significant job clusters beyond this confined space, in parts of the San Fernando Valley and the South Bay, for instance. Residential development spreads out much farther apace.
However, even the different job cores are relatively close together and culture and entertainment are concentrated even more tightly.
LA's public transit infrastructure is notoriously undeveloped. Less well-known is the fact that Los Angeles roads are also woefully outdated, lacking the width or the surface structure necessary to support the millions of automobilesthat traverse them daily.
Then again, the near ubiquity of automobile ownership in Los Angeles is another problem requiring desparate attention.
In any case, if Los Angeles, is to truly shine as the next New York, it must do or die. Policy makers should seize the moment to more forcefully advocate smart growth strategies such as, expanding public transport and improving walkability. In this way, they can tailor the city's growth to the new realities.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Thoughts on Open Hillel

"There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. It shows an angel who seems about to move away from something he stares at. His eyes are wide, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how the angel of history must look."-Walter Benjamin

Benjamin's image was the image on my mind by the end of my first morning at the Open Hillel conference. Not in the tragic sense that Benjamin intended, where the angel ensnares itself in the "storm ...from paradise," but in the majestic grace of a tremendous, though cataclysmic, rupture in the midst of a dreadful storm. For the first time, an American Jewish organization was listening openly and earnestly to Palestinians praise BDS, to Jewish scholars explore the colonial origins of Zionism, and to a panel that thoroughly debated the implications of one-state and two-state solutions to the conflict.

The morning started off with Professor Rashid Khalidi. Yes, Professor Rashid Khalidi, one of the pre-eminent authorities on Palestinian nationalism, appeared in the breakfast area, chatting with conference organizers as he retrieved Starbucks coffee. Khalidi then proceeded to give a talk in the conference room which was supposed to have dealt with the topic of Palestinian nationalism but which actually focused on the exigency of Open Hillel to the Palestinian  cause.
"There are two battles," Khalidi began. "One on the ground, in Palestine...and the other one in the US, the metropole for Israel." If the first was a concrete, physical struggle, the second focused on discourse and the supremacy of ideas.

It was this struggle, the second battle, that Open Hillel was poised to change. "I hope you all realize the importance of this event," Khalidi reminded.

The remainder of the day saw Mark LeVine propose a "dialectical grappling" between anti-Zionist values and the purported Zionist cause (with the intention of enabling a conclusive solution to the "occupation" and "domination" entailed by the former ideology) and a spirited debate between Rebecca Vilkommerson and Peter Beinart over BDS' endgame vision and the role of a two-state solution.  The following day, such contentious topics as the presence of racism in Orthodox Judaism and the meaning of the Palestinian "anti-normalization" campaign were broached by panels in a matter of respectful inquiry.

As someone who has expressed considerable ostracism from both my rabbis and Day School friends for merely questioning the logic of Israel's most recent operation in Gaza, witnessing such intellectual openness on the question of Israel and Zionism in a thoroughly Jewish space felt ethereal if not angelic.

"If I am only for myself who am I..." Such could have been the defining message of this week's conference, not only in the substance of its programming but in the underlying caim to transform the Jewish community.  Attending the conference granted me personal vindication but I know that if similar relief is to be obtained for the numerous young Jews who are forced to dissemble on Israel-Palestine as well as the countless Palestinians who suffer from the policies advocated by an "Israel Lobby" frontlined by the organized Jewish community, much hard work and activism lies ahead.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

My trouble with the term "anti-Zionism" (pt. II)

Update: I notice that one of the reasons I give below partially overlaps with a statement made in the previous article I wrote on Zionism: since I expressed taking away this (or another reason that I offer) would detract from the article's flow, however, I will keep the article as is.

Watching a spate of Facebook comments from some of my pro-Palestinian friends motivated me to follow up on my post from last year on anti-Zionism.

Many "Palestine Solidarity" Types perceive the ideology of Jewish Nationalism (insofar as it pertains to Palestine) as being responsible for the Palestinian's plight.

Too often, this critical gaze on Zionism takes a reductivist turn. Not only has Zionism positively problematic (as regards its impact on the native Palestinians) but normatively aberrant.  "Zionism" is logically coherent and morally deprived, this tangent goes. Thence, as stated by one notorious UN Resolution, Zionism is racism.

As mentioned previously, I find such rhetoric, despite my utmost sympathies with the Palestinian struggle, counter-productive regarding the way in which it can be (mis-) labeled as anti-semitism. Now, I would likely to add four points that challenge the ideological critique of Zionism:

1.Per the magnes Zionist (again), Zionism, as a concept, entails neither ethnic cleansing nor ethnic statehood. If any definition could be given for the word, it would run something like, "support for the well-being of Jewish culture and society in the Land of Israel." Indeed, one could argue that the violence begot by the existing Jewish state's "Occupation" not only threatens the safety of the existing Jewish society their but betrays the ethical values integral to Jewish culture.

2. Given the focus of central Jewish religious texts (most notably, the Torah) on the land of Israel, it makes sense that many Jews feel a historical affinity towards the land, regardless of how they feel about the discrimination/displacement of Palestinians. Sadly, such harmless cultural sentiments too often translate into political support for ethnocracy, but this does not have to be the case. However, when "anti-Zionists" attempt to bring up theories about "Khazar origins" or Palestinian "Canaanites," the implicit denial of Jewish cultural attachment rings as anti-Semitism to Jews nourished on cultural attachment to Israel, thus shutting many ears to the valid critiques of the Israeli state that follow.

3. Rhetoric emanating from the Zionist narrative can be easily molded to accomodate the demands of the "anti-Zionists." For instance: the "law of return" betrays the humanistic values of Jewish society advocated by the likes of Ahad Ha'am. If anti-Zionists were to quote such figures, they could effectively turn Zionists' defense of the legislation on its head.

4. Once again, the system of ethnic privilege and colonialism over which the state of Israel currently presides was not a necessary, even if highly likely, outcome of modern (political) Zionism, and certainly not of pre-modern religious or "cultural" Zionism (by which I mean affinities to the land of Israel stretching back to the time of the Torah). I hope that more Palestine Solidarity Activists-even supporters of a one-state solution-can make clear in the future that they oppose not Zionism so much as the current state of Israel.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Reflections on Yom Kippur (a poem)

Set us free
From hatred, strife and jealousy.
Our petty lust
And rash desire
Quell the heart's passion fire.

Make us tremble in our seats
Not for your majesty
But for our humility

Write down in your book...
The transgressions made
The dept unpaid
Boss to worker
Wayward son to father
1 percent to 99
Occupier to Occupied

Grant us freedom, justice, mercy (and self-determination)
And let us say.... "Amen."

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Shanah Tovah: Reflections on a Rosh Hashanah Sermon

The Jewish New Year (in contrast to analagous versions of the holiday in many other cultures) is a time for reflection rather than celebration, the rabbis say. Not only is the day a "Yom Tov," (i.e. a "sacred day" on which Jewish Law prohibits working, driving or using most electronic implements) but the prayers repeatedly emphasize a cry for penitence for human sins, a demand that symbolically carries over into the afternoon ceremony of tashlich and the Yom Kippur holiday 10 days later. It is in this spirit that I seek to critically reflect on remarks made by Rabbi John Rosove during the Rosh Hashanah Schaharit service I attended this morning at Temple Israel of Hollywood.
Showing signs of both nervousness and distress as he began to speak, Rosove opened by expressing his desire to "talk about Israel," in light of the Gaza War.
 This seemed to begin the sermon that I had been hoping to hear, given the qualms I have developed about Israel's occupation and politics of aggression. Knowing Rabbi Rosove's membership in the Liberal Zionist group, J Street, I was expecting at least some honest reckoning with the Israeli government's cavalier actions (not only towards Palestinian civilians but Israeli soldiers) in the latest round of violence in Gaza.
Sure enough, Rosove, began his speech with a brief paean to the "one-thousand Palestinian civilian dead" in Gaza. But just quickly as he threw out the baby, so went the bathwater: "there is no doubting either," Rabbi Rosove averred, "that Hamas is an anti-semitic organization that would murder every Jew in the world if it could."
Oy! One of the most alarmist Hasbara statements that I have heard (since when has Hamas murdered Jews overseas?), which is surprising since I have so many Likud-leaning friends. Rabbi Rosove followed up by noting that Hamas had a "plot" involving the tunnels, that if successful, would see thousands of militants popping outside "Kibbutz dining halls across Southern Israel...on this day" (i.e. Rosh Hashanah), repeating another trope of the Israeli foreign ministry. Never mind that, as Larry Derfner points out, the "tunnels" were never used by Hamas until Israel attacked (i.e. that the tunnels served a offensive rather than defensive purpose").  Learning of this news, said the Rabbi, turned him from an opponent of the war (for "strategic reasons") into a supporter: from that point on, I gradually began to block out the rabbi's predictable language.
At one moment, the rabbi began to digress from more predictable Hasbara to an attack against "those who use the bully pulpit to determine who (what) is pro-Israel," a not so thinly veiled reference to the Stand With Us crowded. But only a few minutes later, in discussing the painful "division" that had emerged within the American Jewish community, Rosove (while addressing the "hawkish" and "moderate Zionist" as brothers) demanded that those "liberal universalists" in the community who supported the BDS movement, do so as "individuals, not as Jews."  So much for taking on the bullies, Rabbi.
As I listened, I could hardly believe that I was listening to a man considered one of the more liberal Rabbis in Los Angeles (and who at various times, in various capacities, has argued against the Occupation). On the one hand, I could see a generational perspective at work: coming of age in the wake of the Six-Day War, an episode in which Israel's survival seemed genuinely threatened, has carved a lasting (if not misleading) impression of Israel as the "Jewish" underdog. Furthermore, too many Jews-even those who position themselves as liberals, take the Israeli government's wartime propaganda as absolute truth rather than promotional material. Finally, since the year 2000, many "liberal zionists" (both in Israel and the Diaspora) have fallen for Ehud Barak's spurious mantra that Oslo failed due to a lack of a Palestinian "partner." As the years pass by and one misguided conflict flows into the next, these "disappointed" liberals too sadly entrench themselves in their hardnosed "realism." I thought this last war might have been a wake-up call for many, but rather I only see intensified bitterness, tribalism and misunderstanding.

Friday, September 12, 2014

In search of lost time: part II

Her face wrinkled as she spoke...
A smile.
Splotches of yellow and grey could be but faintly perceived
Beneath silver-tinged sheen stockings...
Her feet were crossed.

She reminisced...

The first child, now working for Goldman Sachs
flushed with a brownstone and Cadillac
but rarely more than an aseptic nod
of appreciation.

The second child won the Westinghouse Prize last year,
a recursive algorithm and a scholarship to Yale.
Always awake when it was dark and asleep when light out...
Boy, that Circadian Rhythm...!

And as for the husband...
The one who spends twelve hours at work each day....
Two hours eating before the telly
The rest of the time yelling "Shut the f*ck up, I need to sleep!"

The plane could be felt dipping slightly to the right, as to indicate a change in direction

From the window, the patchwork greenery of the Great Plains could be seen giving way to the rogue red barreness of the Llano Estacado.

"Have you given thought of parachuting from this plane...," he asked, gesturing towards a 1,000-foot canyon. "Just one leap and you're in paradise..."

As he spoke, he recognized from the corner of his eye, the musical notes dancing across her forearm.

"Nah, I prefer trees, she said.

SHe leaned over, as if to share in a grasp of the view, nevertheless...

She put her hand around his arm

She began to stroke

And she sighed...

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Trip to New York and D.C.

I've been blogging an awful lot about the Israel-Palestine conflict this summer (in fact its probably the only subject I've commented on in depth) for quite an obvious reason: namely the sheer horror being perpetuated in Gaza and the callous reaction it has elicited from fellow members of the Jewish community.

Throughout the next week, expect more writing on Israel-Palestine from a different vein.

I will be participating in a trip through the Olive Tree Initiative that will take me and fellow UC students to Washington and New York to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with American and UN policymakers. (we were originally supposed to travel to Israel-Palestine as well but that got canceled, thanks to the fighting)

Throughout the trip, through my encounters with representatives of government agencies, non-profit institutions, and think tanks, I will attempt to assess the viable US policy options for peace in the aftermath of the Gaza conflict. Specific questions that I have in mind include:
-Now that Israel is negotiating with Hamas, what role should the US allow for Hamas in a future political solution?
-Does the White House suspension of the sale of hellfire missiles to Israel suggest a new policy of stricter conditionality for US weapons sales to Israel?
-In light of the collapse of the latest round of peace talks, is a two-state solution still viable?

Stay tuned for more...

Friday, August 8, 2014

American Jewry vs. Israeli Jewry: explaining the "Progressive Except Palestine" (PEP)

As during previous Israeli wars, the organized American Jewish community has construed the facade of "standing with Israel" during the latest Gaza conflagration. My many friends from Jewish Day School and Religious school have resorted to spewing out the latest Israeli government talking points to reassure that the gaping number of civilian casualties are not Israel's fault. Synagogues across LA hold events in conjunction with the Israeli COnsulate to mourn the loss of the Israeli soldiers or teens.

And yet, at the same time, the disjuncture between American Jewry and Israel has never seemed wider.

The large majority of American Jews, according to last November's  Pew poll are political liberals, who not only support the Democratic party  but are painfully aware of discrimination against blacks, LGBT people and Muslims. Over 56 percent of Jews considered "working for justice/equality" as being an essential part of their Jewish identity.

Strange thing then that so many Jews find themselves cheerleading on behalf of a government that has engaged in collective punishment and committed war crimes in order to maintain a brutal military regime in "Judea and Samaria." (and indirectly Gaza) A government, it should be added, whose ministers have called for forced population transfers of Israel's Arab citizens and have cried for the death of Palestinian mothers.

It is equally intriguing that liberal-minded American Jews should stand in solidarity with a society that supports the current government's war crimes by vast margins and appears increasingly intolerant of dissent.

All in one, the divide points to a gaping divergence in the historical trajectory between the world's two largest Jewish communities in the postwar era. Whereas American Jews were inspired by the experience of the Holocaust (and farther-ranging Christian anti-semitism) to fight for equality in their adopted country, the Jews of Palestine saw the Holocaust as justifying an "ethnic state" on land formerly populated by gentile Arabs.

Whereas one community participated admirably in struggles to tear down Jim Crow and to de-racialize American immigration policies, the other worked to establish a discriminatory regime through forced population transfer and later occupation.

And yet, the shared discourse of resistance to anti-semitism oppression used by supporters of Israel and (American Jewish) liberals enables many to-incredibly-link their very conservative form of Zionism with their domestic liberalism.

"The (Palestinian) Arabs are all classical anti-semites!" the erstwhile Jewish liberal is told, "so Israel has no choice..." All Israelis are "good at heart," he or she believes and are only "forced" to commit atrocities in order to combat these who seek to "destroy the Jews." (and who besides "hate women and gays")...

Many of thiose I know in the Left rush to condemn such thought as polite "Islamo (or Arab) phobia," "racism" or even "tribalism"... And yet, many of the Progressive Except Palestine types I know, are attracted to Israel not in spite of their otherwise liberal views but because of them, going so far as to misread Israel's ethnocracy as "affirmative action" (ala Alan Dershowitz1) for the oppressed.

I spoke in my last post about many of high school friends' sense of "false consciousness." Here I will use the term again (if not for the sake of banality) so much as to describe not the miseducation but misappropriation of the oppression narrative by Jewish liberals to supporting the hardcore Zionist agenda.

Liberal Jews if they stepped back a bit, would see Israel not as the oppressed child of the Holocaust but the grandchild of militaristic fascism on display in the current Israeli body politic.

At the end of the day, even progressives are human beings. With time and knowledge, a sense of justice may hopefully prevail.

1. See Dershowitz, Alan. The Case For Israel. 2003. Pg. 15

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Weimar Israel

So, last time, I explored the makings of Judeofascism in America: today I turn my sights towards Israel itself.

To many, perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of the recent right-wing counter-protests against Gaza War demonstrations has been the counter-protestors' appropriation of the slogans and attire popular with European Neo-Nazi groups.

"How could Jews be Neo-Nazis," I can hear the Haaretz editorial writers cry.

Actually, though their are undoubtedly few Jews in Israel who would openly describe themselves as such (Neo-Nazis) it is safe to say that the brand of neo-Zionism, marked by unquestioning support for state militarism, that currently prevails in Israel frighteningly mirrors much of the radical nationalism that took root in interwar Weimar Germany.

Like in Weimar Germany, the militarization of the Israeli body politic-in the course of the Last Decade, arose from the ashes of a "failed peace:" namely the Oslo Peace Process.

As one may recall, Ehud Barak misleadingly labeled as "generous," a proposal for establishing a Palestinian State that barely incorporated three-quarters of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and that mandated continued Israeli military control of the Palestinian state's borders and airspace.

When Arafat understandably turned down the deal, Barak built on the lies to convince the Israeli public that Arafat demonstrated typical "Palestinian rejectionism."

In the mantra stating "Israel has no partner for peace," Israeli hawks found their excuse to justify egregious acts of state violence and repression against Palestinians.

Barak's proposal...still wielded by Likud apologists as bombs currently fall on Gaza bears striking similarities to the "stabbed in the back" deception that spurred the 1920s German right (i.e. that Socialists and Jews snatched defeat from the arms of victory)- a myth, incidentally, created by German army brass to deflect criticism for Germany's defeat away from themselves.

Moreover, the suicide bombings of the early 2000 and the international isolation that Israel received for its actions in the West Bank played into a right-wing Zionist narrative of Israel as the "Jew amongst nations," under attack by classical anti-semites in Europe, the Hague, etc.

Surprisingly to many, Israeli neo-Zionism mirrors the Weimar right-wing in its perception of perpetual victimhood, the need to counter isolation through resolute strength...

There's is often nothing more dangerous than a terrified animal it is said and in their callous justification of Israel's latest measures in Gaza as "self-defense," the vast majority of Israeli citizens confirm this.

At the present, of course, Israeli neo-Zionists (based, for instance, on the level of support for the current Gaza carnage) comprise a far wider swathe of society in Israel than the Nazis did in Weimar times (even in 1932, the latter could garnish no more than a third of support-taking advantage of other parties' fragmentation to rise) and enjoy the support of powerful figures in America.

With hooligans taking to the streets of Tel-Aviv with the tacit support of government officials and with Knesset members callign for collective punishment of Gazan Palestinian communities, the state of democracy in Israel-Palestine seems very bleak indeed.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The making of Young American Judeofascists

The latest round of fighting in Israel-Palestine compels me to think back-almost a decade-to when I attended a Conservative Jewish Day School in Los Angeles in the aftermath of the Second Intifada.

Though Israel did not feature largely on the formal educational curriculum at Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy (only a single weekly, 45-minute class in sixth grade dealt with the state of Israel), many of the students and faculty had family in the country. Many of the students and faculty also adhered to what could be best described as a traditional Zionist viewpoint on the Palestinian question. With constant tension in the region, the topic surfaced frequently in both prayer and in the classroom.

During morning davening, a prayer was dedicated to the state of Israel followed by the relaying of news on the latest Palestinian suicide bombing or attack. The classroom where our daily Hebrew lessons took place, a map on the wall depicted מדינת ישראל (“the state of Israel”) as covering the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterrainean Sea. In sixth grade, the majority of students in my class (myself included) missed two weeks of school in order to take part in an exchange program with the Magen School in Tel-Aviv. On our trip we traveled to Masada and the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem but stayed away from Palestinian Arab locales within the West Bank or even Israel proper.

Sometimes in this environment, vicious or belittling rhetoric rose to the fore. My fifth-grade Hebrew teacher, for instance, dedicated half of the class time (this was late in 2002) to explaining why the “Jenin Massacre” was staged (with “actors”). But for the most part, I was not infused with racism so much as ignorance.

I learned that Israel was a normal, if not exemplary, nation bereft of any  military occupation let alone second class arab citizenry. Moreover, I was taught to embrace Israel-as a (exclusively) Jewish and Zionist state as an integral part of my Jewish identity, all the more so when it suffered from “attacks” supposedly motivated by sheer (“anti-semitic”) hatred,

Even when I attended Pressman, however, the Israeli tendency to resort to brute force (this was the time of the Second Intifada) often troubled me for its resemblance to the adventuristic militarism of the Bush administration (which my progressive parents had taught me to criticize). The summer after I graduated Pressman (going on to a public high school), I was exposed to the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon in the “Second Lebanon War.” Reading from third-party sources about Israel’s conduct during this war and, later, during Operation Cast Lead and Operation Pillar of defense, I gradually came to see that something was often wrong, if not wholly self-defeating, with Israel’s tendency to resort to force.

I likewise learned in the ensuing years about the suffering of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories through taking classes at my university with professor James Gelvin and reading articles and books by the likes of Edward Said, Richard Silverstein and Max Blumenthal.In my senior year, I conducted a thesis on Israel’s Palestinian Arab minority, learning for the first time of the immense institutional discrimination that it suffered (and reaching the conclusion that an exclusively-defined “Jewish state” cannot be democratic).
Through it all I not only came to a more nuanced understanding of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians but acquired sympathy for the national aspirations of a Palestinian people living in Occupation.

In this most recent fighting in Gaza, therefore, I no longer see Israel as a victim but as an aggressor, having invaded Gaza to “respond” to rocket fire that the Netanyahu government provoked through its harsh crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank in the proceeding weeks (in a not-so-carefully disguised attempt to “break” Hamas’ unity government with Fatah). This, of course, on the heels of Netanyahu’s obstinance towards Palestinians in negotiating an end to the Occupation.

And yet, almost all of my day school friends-still perceiving of Israel as a “normal” state, incapable of imposing an illiberal military regime on much of the land it controls- likely only have to hear an Israeli military spokesperson mention “Hamas” rocket fire on Israel in order to reflexively come to Israel’s defense. The Netanyahu government’s line, that Israel is only fighting for Israel’s “self-defense,” is carefully tailored to the neurons of those raised to perceive Israel as a righteous, beleaguered state. Even when Israel kills over 500 civilians in the process and gets no closer to “destroying” Hamas.

In the past week, I have heard old friends and close family comment that “Hamas is pure evil,” argue that Israel should reoccupy of the Gaza Strip and dismiss hundreds of civilian deaths as the collateral byproduct of Israel’s “self-defense.”

Such comments will surely be dismissed by many of pro-Palestinian friends as hasbara. But knowing where I was ten years ago, I understand that these statements are rooted not in propaganda but in unwitting misinformation spawned in day schools, shuls and Jewish summer camps.. Amidst the political volatility of Israel-Palestine, a false perception of victimhood combines with reflexive instincts of fear, safety and loyalty to demand the defense of even the most indefensible Israeli position.

I see this psychology at work not only in the Facebook posts of my friends but in the articles, books and interviews given by the likes of Thane Rosenbaum, an Ivy League-educated law professor who justified Israel’s killing of civilians in Gaza by essentially belittling the Geneva Conventions-on the same grounds used by Osama Bin Laden.

Viciousness, brought out in some of the brightest and kindest people I know, inspired by fear of the “Jew-hating” Hamas. The justifying of unlawful brutality as a means of restoring “security” to Israel’s south. The unwavering acceptance of Israeli government talking points as the absolute truth (“Hamas provoked it”) despite massive evidence, this time, to the contrary: that Netanyahu.provoked the conflict to destroy the Palestinian unity government.

In all of these aspects, the political behavior of my reflexively pro-Israel friends in this latest conflict mirrors the sentiments traditionally categorized as fascism, what I call (owing to the adherents' espoused identity rather than inherent religious qualities) “Judeofascism.”  

I use the word “fascism” not as a moral judgment (as is so often the case) but as a political category, applicable to a certain breed of doctrinaire patriotism. For many, the word brings to mind a deranged cartoon dictator but rather I think of what Hannah Arendt’s “Little Eichmann’s,” ordinary people who-in the 1930s-would have fallen into lockstep with the authoritarian governance of Der Führer or Il Duce for saving national honor from defeat, personal fortune from the ruin of depression (or Bolshevism).  

The narrow-mindedness and trigger-like conformity that Judeofascism instills in many American Jews are merely symptoms of a toxic disease. In Israel itself, several stages ahead in its prognosis, legislation has been put forth to ban Palestinian politicians expressing dissenting views from the Knesset.

Fortunately, like any disease Fascism can be purged through education and ecposure to multiple perspectives on (this) issue?

Changing the reflexively “pro-Israel” mindset requires that community leaders (rabbis, Jewish educators, philanthropist) begin to tell the honest truth about Israel to their flock. It requires Palestine Solidarity activists to not simply speak against falsehoods or simplicities spewed by their apparent opponents but to speak to them, with the intention of educating.

On Facebook. for a momentary break, I see that an old high school friend has put up a quote from a Times of Israel article, threatening (in his post) to unfriend anyone who posts “anti-Israel messages.”

And then, I ask myself quietly: is it too late?  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Panama: journey into the abyss

The air-conditioning whirred as the bus bumped and swerved along a dirt and gravel pathway, snaking ever deeper into the rainforest of el Darien. Outside, pitch blackness prevailed owing to the thick vegetation and lack of habitation along the highway and yet each stone, rut or snake egg dotting the road could be perceived with a jitter or a thud. As if to distract from the frequent discomfort (and the searing tropical heat), the driver had not only turned up the air-conditioning to the highest notch but turned up the volume on the a loud, raunchy salsa music videos blaring from the television. Dancing and frolicking and screeen alongside the jittering and thumping... Every so often the bus would stop for a member of the nation's defence forces to board for an "inspection." THrough hushed tones of anxiety, it was overheard that we were "heading towards the border" and "drug smugglers," "illegal logging"... After each such stop (accompanied by a reprieve of light), the bus continued into darkness, jittering, salsa dancing, the air-conditioning whirring and now, every so often a piercing howl (from outside).... A sense of the surreal, near hallucinatory indulgence amidst the risk of danger prevailed.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Takeaways from the latest bloodbath in Gaza

1. Objectively speaking, this is not a "conflict" in any form whatsoever. It is a brutal counterinsurgency operation carried out by Israel's Likud government with the presumed intention of annihilating Hamas politically (whether it actually achieves this is a different story). Like any classic counterinsurgency/colonial war, the conflict pits a fully-equipped army against a ragtag lot of guerillas and civilians.

2. The fiercest battle being raged is not taking place but on the ground in Gaza but in public opinion forums abroad, between supporters of Israel and Palestine Solidarity Activists. (see here and here) It is not a battle between supporters of the fighting parties (Israel and Hamas) so much as between upholders of opposing narratives: Pro-palestine activists portraying the conflict as a wanton massacre by an Occupying power and pro-Israeli zionists, upholding the killing as mere "self-defense" by a besieged state.

3. Ultimately, both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine supporters extend their arguments way back into history: Palestine solidarity activists emphasize the conflict's roots in the 1948 Nakba (and the very realization of the "Zionist Dream") while Jewish activists compare Hamas to previous waves of anti-semitism like Hamas and Hitler.

4. How involved are the Arab states in this conflict? Iran?
This latest round of fighting has been almost entirely focused on the fight between Israel and Palestine, largely to the exclusion of outside powers...
Thus, a new stage of the I-P conflict, has come into being, one centered on the root conflict between Zionism and Palestinian nationalism to the exclusion of power politics. The deep-rooted, manichean tensions at stake make for a very difficult road ahead.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Hillel and the Milstein affair: a catalyst for self-reflection

I am angry. I am mad. But I'm not in the least surprised to discover that the UCLA Hillel has been in cahoots with a bigoted real estate baron, Adam Milstein, who not only fears Islam but donates to organizations (like Aish HaTorah and Christians United for Israeli) that support Israel's brutal military rule and settlement-building in the Occupied West Bank. Not only that, but Milstein and UCLA Hillel seem to have cooperated to provide illicit, under-the-table funding for Bruins United political candidates, before the 2013 elections.

I always felt that Hillel was an uncomfortable place for Jews who did not toe the community line on Israel-Palestine. Whether it was being privy to conversations on Shabbat about the rise in "campus anti-semitism" (codeword for Palestine solidarity activism) or being bombarded with emails prior to student elections demanding that Jewish students "stand with the community" in supporting the Bruins United slate (whose opposition to divestment initiatives and other progressive causes seemed to conflict with the belief in social justice on which I had been raised), the Hillel community always offered a litmus test to which I could not genuinely comply.  The easiest thing to do was remain silent.

It was not just Israel-Palestine politics that got me off. Frequently, when I attended Shabbat dinners, I would receive glances followed by a question of "who do you know" or "what are you here for." Several times, the real intent leaked out: "you aren't fully Jewish...are you?" My Asiatic features apparently made me a suspect outsider, possibly a criminal: such "racial profiling" likely profiling likely bore a connection to many Hillel member's nationalistic or ethnic conceptions of Judaism. (i.e. Jewfroed, hairy, fair-skinned Ashkenazim with Yiddish- or Hebrew-sounding last names).

During my freshman and sophomore years, when I lived on campus, I attended Hillel only for religious services and Shabbat dinners, almost always sticking to a small circle of acquaintances from the UCLA J Street U chapter  (in which I was then involved). These friends all either graduated or drifted away from J Street at the end of sophomore year. I went once for Shabbat at the beginning of junior year only to become privy to an intolerable conversation about the "dangers" of BDS (at my table). Afterwards I only attended for High Holidays, when the scholarship and eloquence of Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller's sermons put aside my concerns with the community large.

The details coming out about Hillel's history of accepting of Milstein's endowments, in spite of the horrendous bigotry and fanaticism that Milstein has displayed, has made me come to see even Rabbi Chaim in a less favorable light. This, of course, follows on the stances Hillel took-with the open support of Rabbi Chaim and other high-ranking staff-that openly opposed last year's divestment resolution (by erroneously linking  it to a monolithic BDS movement purportedly aiming to "delegitimize and demonize the state of Israel) and that masqueraded Hillel's opposition to renewed Palestine Solidarity Activism (in which Jewish Bruin students have played a prominent role) as a "fight against anti-semitism."

Getting back to my main point, I love Judaism as a religion and cultural system but hate any groups or institutions that engage in close-mindedness, exclusion and/or (now, worse) chicanery. The latest Milstein affair, which sees Hillel's leadership  refusing to answer for the revelations of its deceptive, under-the-table activity violates the  portions of the Torah and the Talmud that condemn lying (indeed the Talmud claims that the lyer is among the three types of people whom God most despises). Furthermore Milstein's fear-mongering about "radical Islam" provides a prime example of what the Torah calls Lashon Hara (or slander), deemed sinful even if the accusations are "true." Jewish students of all backgrounds should be mad at Hillel for its pursuit of narrow-minded nationalism at the expense of Judaism's ethical teachings.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

On Divestment resolution, Hillel was not entitled to speak on behalf of all Jewish students

The lengthy public comment period at last week's USAC meeting presented the undeserved impression that the resolution calling on the university to divest from five companies abetting Israel's occupation of the Palestinian Territories offended the campus "Jewish" community and representing a strike by an "anti-semitic" BDS movement.

Such rhetoric not only ignored the fact that this resolution made no mention whatsoever of the BDS movement but denies the voice of Jewish students like myself who support the resolution as a means of opposing an Occupation illegal under international law and harmful to both Palestinians and Israelis.
However the message voiced played by our campus's most prominent Jewish institution, Hillel, in fighting the resolution. In an email sent out the on the day of the meeting, Hillel's Student Board called on Jewish students to "join our community in voting NO" the resolution, erroneously tying it to a "BDS movement" aiming to "delegitimize and demonize the Jewish, Democratic state of Israel." (

The same e-mail furthermore recommended that students check out the Facebook page of Bruins against BDS, a group led by Hillel student leaders that also made use of Hillel facilities for a meetings.
This overt opposition to Tuesday’s resolution reflects considerably on the “Israel Guidelines” laid out by Hillel at UCLA’s parent organization, Hillel International, which state that Hillel will not partner or affiliate with groups or individuals who “support boycotts, divestment and/or Sanctions against Israel” or who “delegitimize” or “demonize” the state of Israel.  (
These guidelines have been used by Hillels at Harvard and Brandeis (respectively) to refuse to host former Speaker of the Knesset Avraham Burg (for giving a talk co-sponsored by the Palestine Solidarity Committee, ( and to deny membership to Jewish Voice for Peace (a Jewish organization that supports Boycott Divestment and Sanctions,
In this light, Hillel at UCLA’s mobilization of opposition to the late divestment resolution should be seen as especially stringent given the steps taken by the authors of the resolution to dissociate it from the BDS movement and focus only on the most pressing issue of corporations aiding Israel’s violations of human rights and international law in the Occupied Territories. (
Given the willingness of Hillel at UCLA to accommodate Jews of various denominations and levels of observance, it disheartens me that it should take such a strong stance against a measure that prominent Jews and Israelis feel necessary to end Israel’s occupation and bring long-lasting peace to the Middle East.
It should be added that I have been a regular attendee of Hillel’s  Shabbat and High Holiday services since I have been a Freshman appreciating the warmth of community and Jewish learning that I have received there. In light of Hillel’s failure to incorporate my opinions in drawing its stance on divestment, I vow not to attend events held at or sponsored by Hillel until the day I graduate.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

the Cloudy Evening

Cloudy whisps of pink,grey and white
too dark for day, too mellow for night.
blocking out sun, filtering in light
At this hour, we scurry with fright...

Back into the suburb, the shtetl and barrio
Driving at 50, ears blasting radio
Or out on the sidewalk, amidst a faint haze....
men push and shove, each an obstacle maze 

The day is over.
What's done is done.
Atoms fall proportionate to mass.
And clouds and people...drift.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

In search of lost time...and love

It was a typical Los Angeles winter night.
Temperature: 50-something degrees, with a slight breeze from the northern hills.
As I begin to sober up, the short gusts of wind pang rudely against my awakening nerves.
Having yet to recover my memory of the apartment code I stand anxiously awaiting...
After a few minutes, that pass as if a fortnight, I hear giggling and talking
Prating banter reminiscent of a bygone carefree.
She catches sight of my eyes as she inserts the key.
"you...I know you"
Five girls my age, carrying the most outlandish contraption.
But only one of them, her lips overdone but her handsome brown eyes, eyes that modestly invited,
tantalizing in both their beauty and good intention.
I could sense something oddly familiar, besides that inner attraction
In the elevator, pressed together, passing the third floor...
I spot the music tattoo of erotic etched in my memory
The young, exotic alluring senses...of Fridays,
Fall Quarter
Freshman Year of undergrad
"You were in comm 10 with Schubert, right?"
"Chubbyish guy with glasses?"
and our goateed hipster TA?"
I knew at that moment, I was speaking with a figment of my post-puberty sexual imaginary.
That tattoo, Notes cascading along a line of sheet music.
A innocent melody, wavy and slender, heightens the temptation of that fair skin,
 and those haunting eyes.
"Where do you come from?"
"A bachelorette party."
"You getting married already? When?"
"Tomorrow. But tonight we're having fun. Want to join us?"
By now we are passing the third floor.
"Sure," I say, giving a clumsy wink. Her mouth perks up into a smile of abandon-and sincerity.
She's looking like Daisy from Gatsby.
As house keys and a vodka bottle clink.
I plop down on a couch, and pick up a remote.
I scroll through music playlists on the HD screen before pressing "select" on 90s' hits, par request.
 We take shots
She's sitting beside me, smiling fatigued, and draws a card
"Never have I ever..."
That foolish Freshman-year version of "truth or dare,"
interposed with Russian Roulette a la vodka 
 As a PhD. student, working round the clock meticulously analyzing documents (when not at the bar)
The bygone stupidity caused a well of warmth, strangely familiar yet eons...
"Your turn"
Half-slouching and at an oblique angle, I fuddle two fingers through some cards,
As I dutifully imbibe, eyes cross and lock...
Yes, those eyes, her eyes...that once gave me butterflies forty-five minutes of each week
Now acknowledging me...responding 
I feel her hands grasp my arms, smell the perfume whiff in my nostril...
and feel her lips around my mouth
Drawing back then...
her lips clasp the rim of a Coors
her comrades can be heard laughing
I can bearly conceal a blush,
euphoria and arousal.

My eyes widen tepidly.
A searing gash throttles my head,
hardwood and tile
a candy wrapper, nutshells and a bottle
but I see no eyes..
Rays of afternoon sun gleam through,
And I know she is gone forever...

That thirty-second instant,
mired in beer and lipstick
remains eternally
in my mind....

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year

First off, Happy and Healthy New Year to any readers of my blog out there.
2014 will confront me with several testy but exciting challenges.
In the next twelve months, I will need to complete a Bachelor's thesis, take the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) Graduate School Examination, find a full-time career for after I graduate and complete my coursework with outstanding marks so that I can graduate with honors.
The degree to which I succeed in these endeavors will influence my success in applying to graduate school. For that reason, I am ignoring the more typical, mundane resolutions (e.g. learning the drums or getting a car) this New Year's.
By starting off with a full-formed blog post, I hope to establish a pattern of disciplined regularity in my writing that will be essential to achieving the desired outcome in all of the upcoming tasks.
Speaking of my writing, Friday will mark the one-year anniversary of this blog. In that time, I will have made more than 51 posts or approximately one post per week!
That may not be the daily or twice-weekly pace that I had originally hoped for but it is a marked improvement over my progress at the old Livejournal site (60 posts in the course of three-and-a-half years).
On a final note, I chanced across two great articles in the American Conservative (one of the few right-wing publications that offers genuine intellectual output) today. One on the futility of neo-con "you're with us or against us" foreign policy thinking and the other, by Andrew Bacevich on America's alienation from its entangling conflicts, a complement to my piece last January on the fin-de-siecle.
Read up, comment and welcome to 2014, landofrye's second year on blogger!