A bad situation – and a worse solution

From Ha’aretz:

A Dutch judge has ordered four teenagers to visit the Anne Frank House museum after finding them guilty of discrimination for insulting Jews at a rally.

The boys, aged 14 to 17, must turn in a report to the Hague Police Judge about their visit the canal house in Amsterdam where Anne Frank and her family hid from Nazi occupiers during World War II.

The four boys were convicted Friday for insulting Jews who were protesting Israel’s military attack on Gaza. Prosecutors say two boys held a banner with a swastika superimposed on the Star of David, and two shouted “Hamas, Hamas, all Jews to the gas.”

I’m sure I don’t need to explain that someone shouting “all Jews to the gas” is demonstrating a of hatred of Jews, not a love of Palestinians. Especially since they were shouting it at Jews who were protesting Israel.

But sending them to the Anne Frank house? Really? There are two problems with that. First off, their choice of words signals that they already know what happened in the Holocaust. I imagine their reaction to “Look, Jews actually died in those gas chambers!” would be, “Well, duh.” Secondly, the international community is already sick of us talking about the Holocaust all the time. Really. They’re desensitized. They don’t care. That doesn’t mean we’re wrong to talk about the Holocaust – and I do think that often, what others perceive as “talking about it all the time” is actually us trying to own and make sense of our history – but it does mean that it’s going to have zero effect on people who already hate us.

I mean, seriously, people who are engaged in hate speech are probably beyond sensitivity training. What outcome do the authorities hope to achieve? Is this a Dutch thing? Is it because the boys are minors? Is this the usual punishment for hate speech? I don’t know – but I really hope they’re not being extra lenient on the boys because they think Israel’s crimes justify anti-Semitism.

“What is bad for the Jews is better for Zionism.”

This review originally appeared at Feministe. It’s taken me forever to haul it over here, as usual.

The Holocaust Is Over; We Must Rise From its Ashes by Avraham Burg
(Palgrave Macmillan)

When liberals and radicals discuss the occupation of Palestine, two soundbites tend to emerge: “How can Jews persecute Arabs when they themselves were persecuted? They know better!” and “It’s like when an abused child grows up to abuse their own children. It’s just something that happens.” There are elements of truth to both assertions, but each one shaves off so much of the complexity behind Israeli aggression that neither one is very useful in understanding how to end it. Auschwitz survivor Ruth Kluger, in her memoir Still Alive, addresses the idea that “Jews should know better” in a scene where she takes a group of university students to task for comparing Israel to the Nazis. “Auschwitz was no instructional institution,” she scolds them. “You learned nothing there, and least of all humanity and tolerance.” And it’s true. When you experience violence, you learn violence. The idea that genocide turns people into enlightened beings is preposterous.

However, the opposite assertion – that Israel is like an abused child – can be shallow and insulting. A human being operates on emotion and impulse just as much as logic and rationality; we forgive individuals for acting without thinking. A government, on the other hand, must be held to a higher standard. To say that Israel is just an abuser and that’s all there is to it is to give up on Israel’s capacity for good, and to give up on that is to dismiss the possibility of a Palestinian state and peace in the region.

Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Knesset, doesn’t flinch from the complex web of trauma, pride, anger, sadness, and paranoia that has led Israeli citizens to condone the slaughter of Palestinians. The Holocaust is Over; We Must Rise From Its Ashes doesn’t address the manipulation of Holocaust remembrance by Israeli and American politicians, the Christian Zionist movement, global anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim sentiment, or the other external factors that fuel Israel’s various military endeavors; instead, his half-memoir, half-polemic dissects the psychology behind Israel’s preference for violence over diplomacy, and makes the case for why Israel cannot achieve peace and stability until it stops seeing every threat as a potential Shoah. Continue reading

High Stakes and Flat Debates

From the L.A. Times (thanks to Tom for the link):

The Shoah is woven, to varying degrees, into almost all of Israel’s political arguments; over time, we have taken the Shoah from its position of sanctity and turned it into an instrument of common and even trite politics. It represents a past that is present, maintained, monitored, heard and represented. Our dead do not rest in peace. They are busy, active, always a part of our sad lives.

Of course, memory is essential to any nation’s mental health. The Shoah must always have an important place in the nation’s memorial mosaic. But the way things are done today — the absolute monopoly and the dominance of the Shoah on every aspect of our lives — transforms this holy memory into a ridiculous sacrilege and converts piercing pain into hollowness and kitsch. As time passes, the deeper we are stuck in our Auschwitz past, the more difficult it becomes to be free of it.

What does the primacy of the Shoah mean in terms of our politics and policy? For one thing, it becomes virtually impossible to find a conversation carried out with reason, patience, self-control or restraint. Take Iran as an example. With regard to Iran, as with any other security matter that has potentially existential consequences, we have no thoughts at all — only instincts and trauma-driven impulses. Who has ever heard of alternative approaches to the Iranian issue, of strategic arguments underlying the passionate emotions, the old fears and violent rhetoric?

Few people in Israel are willing to try to perceive reality through a different set of conceptual lenses other than those of extermination and defensive isolation. Few are willing to try on the glasses of understanding and of hope for dialogue. Instead, the question is always: Is a second Shoah on the way?

I’m trying to get my hands on a copy of Avraham Burg’s The Holocaust is Over; We Must Rise From Its Ashes so that I can review it, but damn if the publisher and all the libraries aren’t making it difficult.

I wanted to write about this weeks ago: I was appalled, during the presidential and VP debates, at the number of times the candidates brought up the Holocaust – specifically in terms of not wanting a second one. What is a Jewish tragedy doing at the forefront of Gentile politics? It’s not out of a sincere concern for Jewish well-being, I can tell you that (although I’m sure the conspiracy theorists were jumping up and down at the unveiling of yet another Jewish World-Takeover). No, the Holocaust serves as a way to squelch debate and control people – Jews and non-Jews alike – through fear. If we don’t support Israel, there’ll be a second Holocaust. If we try diplomacy with Iran, there’ll be a second Holocaust. If we don’t give the American and Israeli governments free reign to do what they want in Palestine, Iraq, and… well, anywhere in the Middle East, then that second Holocaust is right around the corner! And as Burg says, the higher the stakes are, the flatter the debate becomes. It’s impossible to have a realistic discussion about foreign or domestic policy when the question is Holocaust or No Holocaust. (I’ll take the No Holocaust, please!)

And that kind of rhetoric, when repeated by American government officials for a mostly non-Jewish audience, has a nasty side effect. Let’s say the US and Israel both went to war with Iran for, supposedly, the express purpose of avoiding a second Holocaust. All we’re trying to do, each government insisted, is avoid a second Holocaust. Let’s say the war went badly. Which outcry do you think would be louder here in the US: “We’re losing a lot of troops, but at least we’re helping the Jews!” or “The Jews made us do it! Israel is controlling the world!” I don’t know if McCain and Palin were aware of this during the debates, but framing Iran as a Jewish problem only sets us up to take the blame if things go wrong.

(But Julie, what about AIPAC? Yes, AIPAC has a lot of influence, but this isn’t a matter of a cabal of Jews strongarming the most powerful nation on Earth into doing what they say. Rather, as with any other powerful lobbying group, AIPAC’s goals are in line with those of elected officials: in this case, the creation of Middle Eastern populations who are accommodating to Western interests.)

Consider this an addendum to my disturbing realization the other day.

Kristallnacht

I don’t really have much to say about it, but tonight’s the 70th anniversary, so I feel obligated to post something. If you’d like to read more, Wikipedia’s always useful.

In other news, white people are feeling free to toss around the word nigger.

In other other news, here’s a story about my election day. I tried to give an elderly couple No on 8 flyers but they wouldn’t take them. “We’re voting yes,” the man said. “We think it’s a good idea!”

I couldn’t help but think of all the casual hatred that has simmered throughout the centuries – all the people who have thought of themselves as well-meaning, sensible, just concerned. I came across another anti-”Zionist” tirade the other day, on a site linked to by a major feminist blogger. Its reasoning went like this: 1. There’s no such thing as a secular Jew who isn’t a Zionist. Religious Jews aren’t necessarily Zionists, but no non-religious person would ever want to be Jewish and not Zionist. (After all, Zionism’s 100% of all Jewish cultures, right?) 2. Anyone who cares about anti-Semitism is obsessed with anti-Semitism, and thus does not care about Palestinians. 3. If you think I’ve got a problem with Jews, re-read #2.

I tried not to let it get to me, but you can see that it did.

Anyway.

Eco-Kashrut and Quentin Tarantino

From the New York Times Magazine (thanks to Tomemos for the tip):

The allegations against Agriprocessors galvanized a small but thriving Jewish environmental movement and took its concerns to a much wider audience. In some American Jewish households, the raid on Agriprocessors started a deep conversation about the very meaning of kosher: is it simply about cutting an animal’s neck and butchering it in a specific way?

No.

Or is the ritual also meant to minimize an animal’s pain or to bring sanctity to its death?

Yes.

Does it matter how the animal was treated when it was alive? How about the workers who processed it? Is reverence for life possible in a factory-farming setting?

Yes, yes, and no.

Part of [the debate over whether eco-kashrut should be adopted] has to do with denominational infighting. Some Orthodox Jews don’t like the idea of Conservative Jews or even liberal Modern Orthodox Jews horning in on an area of Jewish life that has traditionally been the domain of the Orthodox alone. But some of the debate harks back to longstanding Jewish questions about the purpose of religious observance: Does God require adherence to his laws because they are just, or is following God’s laws a good unto itself whether or not the laws serve a moral purpose? Should Jews keep kosher because it is an ethical practice, or should they keep kosher because it is what God wants? Last month, Agudath Israel, a lobbying organization that represents haredi, or ultra-Orthodox Jews, released a statement opposing Allen’s proposals for a “justice certification.” Avi Shafran, a spokesman for Agudath Israel, told me that if kashrut is framed as simply an ethical practice, or as a practice with any specific function other than obeying God’s law, it could set the stage for the practice to ultimately be discarded.

I’m no Torah scholar, but I find it very hard to believe that God would give us commandments just because. Empty observance of laws – paying more attention to technicalities than to judgment, operating through loopholes and contortions of logic – isn’t really observance.

The good news is that the eco-kashrut movement is thriving. See pages 2 and 3 of the article for examples of Jews taking their food into their own hands.

And hey, speaking of reconnecting with your food source, everyone who thinks gardening is just a hobby should immediately read The Urban Homestead. (Try to ignore the numerous typos.) I’m currently drafting a longer essay on this, so I’m going to remain tight-lipped for now, but I will say that I squealed when my spinach seedlings sprouted their first true leaves.

Then my cat knocked over my pot of scallion seedlings and the new scallions aren’t growing because the soil is infested with fungus gnats. But these delays will make the scallions that I eventually manage to harvest all the more delectable. Also the dill, which… Cripes, I don’t even know what the fuck’s happening with those.

In other news, Quentin Tarantino is working on a Holocaust movie, in which Uma Thurman is hunting down the Nazis who put a bullet in her head before they find out she’s the cop. No, kidding. It looks… well, here, take a look:

BERLIN – For weeks, Germany’s tabloids and culture pages have been preoccupied with Quentin Tarantino’s film “Inglorious Bastards,” slated to start filming next week in Germany.

While the tabloids are drooling over the movie’s star, Brad Pitt, who is moving with his wife Angelina Jolie and their children to a villa close to Berlin (“The most beautiful couple in Wannsee,” one headline declared), the serious media is focusing on another angle: Is Germany ready for a Tarantino-style treatment of World War II?

An early draft of the script leaked onto the Internet three months ago suggested the film would contain scenes of bloody vengeance exacted by Jews against Nazis. One campaign would be carried out by Jews in the U.S. Army intent on scalping Nazi soldiers on occupied French soil; another would be a Jewish refugee’s revenge against the Nazi officer who murdered her parents. Pitt is to play Jewish-American Lt. Aldo Raine, the leader of a revenge squad known as “The Bastards,” who launch a killing spree in which they hang, torture, disembowel and scalp German soldiers and engrave Swastikas on their foreheads, according to the leaked draft.

I’m going to tread very carefully here, because I know that a project like this will stir up a lot of bad feelings in a lot of people, and I don’t want to make light of that. There are many good arguments against making this film – the main one, in my mind, being that it’s gallingly disrespectful to make a so-over-the-top-it’s-funny gorefest about the Holocaust, especially if neither you nor your leads are Jewish.

However.

I saw Death Proof a few months ago and loved it. It was, in some ways, a similar situation: women have been violently oppressed for thousands of years, and it’s not funny. It shouldn’t be used for cheap entertainment. And what could a cisgendered straight man know about being targeted for horrific violence because of your gender?

Except he got it. He got how it works, and he got how we feel. It was, in many ways, one of the most cathartic feminist films I’ve ever seen. Take, for instance, Abernathy’s feet. The first half of the movie is meant to function as a straight-up grindhouse flick; women (perennial victims of serial killers, hypnotists, and evil magicians) exist only to show off their bodies and then have those bodies ripped apart. It’s the whole cycle of gender-based violence: man claims female body, man partakes of female body, man destroys female body. (Think of Butterfly’s lapdance – Stuntman Mike demands her, gets her, and kills her.) It’s the ultimate ownership. Jungle Julia is a particularly exploitative character – notice that whenever the four of them are in a car, she rides with her legs outstretched and her feet sticking out of the window, an unrealistic position obviously concocted for the male gaze. Shortly after that juicy exotic WOC gam flies out of the car and bounces on the pavement, we see Abernathy – another WOC – asleep in her car in the same position. After Mike traces his hand along her foot and speeds off, though, she does something interesting: she puts on cowboy boots. The previous group of women only wore flip flops; now, though, as she pulls the boots on, the film goes from black and white to color and we find ourselves in a very different movie. These women are badasses. They’re reckless, cocky, and confident; they pass the Bechtel Test countless times over. And, as it so happens, Abernathy uses the very boots she used to distinguish herself from Jungle Julia to smash Mike’s face in.

Also, driving through the rowboat? Totally vaginal. Although I don’t agree with the message that femininity must be destroyed in order for women to be empowered.

I know that’s a simplistic reading of the film; I know not every element fits into it. But I cheered out loud when Kim shot Mike and sent him fleeing and crying. That feeling of revenge was so potent. I didn’t really care about deep reflection or analysis; it felt good to see my people getting even. So, might Tarantino do as good a job with violence against Jews as he did with violence against women? Or is he going too far?

I really don’t know. My only thought right now is this: we should wait and see.

Although I do think he could have scrounged up a Jewish actor to play the lead. Death Proof didn’t star men in wigs, after all.

Thanks, Lithuania!

From the Forward:

The European Union has designated Vilnius as the “European Capital of Culture” for 2009. It is a recognition Lithuania does not deserve.

Today, six decades [after the Holocaust], the small, reviving Jewish community is seeking the return of former Jewish communal property as a means of restoring and preserving Jewish heritage sites and supporting its own limited religious and cultural needs. The Lithuanian Jewish community seeks to follow the paths taken by Jewish communities in neighboring countries such as the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, where community property restitution was implemented years ago.

In Prague the restored Jewish quarter, with its eight synagogues, is again the center of Jewish activity in the Czech Republic and a magnet for tourists. The Krakow neighborhood known as Kazimierz hosts an annual Jewish Cultural Festival that brings 25,000 people together for a week of concerts, films and lectures that display Poland’s rich Jewish legacy. In Slovakia a government-endowed foundation, created as a partial settlement for looted Jewish assets during the Holocaust, aids the elderly and restores cemeteries and synagogues.

None of this is happening in Lithuania. Instead, the Lithuanian government, for more than six years, has continually delayed an agreement on communal property restitution. Meanwhile, former Jewish properties have been privatized and the community lacks the most basic support for education and welfare.

Vilna’s historic Jewish cemetery, for example, was hundreds of years old, but in the mid-19th century tsarist Russia built a military fort on the site, and in the 1950s the Soviets replaced it with a sports arena. The pattern of disrespect continued under Lithuania’s post-Communist leadership. Despite promises that no graves would be desecrated under their watch, the land was privatized, sold to developers and, ignoring regulations to the contrary, city permits were issued to allow the construction of luxury apartments. Lithuania’s president promised in September 2007 to stop construction, but it has yet to be halted.

In March, when Lithuania celebrated its independence from the Soviet Union, several hundred neo-Nazis and skinheads paraded along Gedimino Avenue in central Vilnius, walking past the Parliament and the prime minister’s office, waving flags with a Lithuanian swastika and shouting “Juden Raus.”

This was not the first neo-Nazi rally in Eastern Europe. Last November a similar group organized a march in Prague with the provocative goal of walking through the city’s Jewish quarter. But in the Czech capital the neo-Nazis were greeted by thousands of vocal counter-demonstrators and nearly all the country’s political leaders. In Vilnius, where incitement to ethnic hatred is a crime, police made no arrests while providing the marchers with an escort. Lithuania’s president, to be fair, did voice criticism — 10 days after the event.

Land of my forefathers – you do me proud!

Okay, so I basically just excerpted about half the article there. If you go read the whole thing, your blood will boil twice as much!

I am SO getting this.

From Haaretz:

X-Men mutant survives the Holocaust in new Marvel Comics miniseries

Though the Shoah seems out of place amid the bright colors, tights and capes of comic books, graphic novels have a long history of depicting the Holocaust. Art Spiegelman started writing the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Maus” in 1972, and the mutant known as Wolverine was given a history in the Nazi extermination camp Sobibor. Last week, in Philadelphia, Marvel Comics announced that Greg Pak, best known for writing such characters as Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk, would be penning a new miniseries in September called “Magneto: Testament.”

The miniseries, according to Pak, “follows a Jewish boy and his family through Germany and Poland from 1935 to 1945.” The character is probably best known as the magnetism-controlling supervillain played by Ian McKellen in the X-Men films. In fact, though Magneto was created in 1963, it wasn’t until the mid-’80s that writer Chris Claremont gave him sympathetic origins as a Jewish child during the Holocaust.

The chances that it’ll be original and stereotype-free are admittedly slim (although since I don’t read Iron Man or Hulk, I’m not familiar with Pak’s work – maybe he’s great) but I’m giving it a shot. How can I resist? Jews? Superheroes? Jewish superheros? Those are three of my favorite things! And Magneto is the awesomest X-Man, you can’t deny it.

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