Olmert: Israel must withdraw

From JTA:

Israel will have to leave the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, and compensate Palestinians for settlement blocs in a peace deal, Ehud Olmert said.

“In the end of the day, we will have to withdraw from the most decisive areas of the territories. In exchange for the same territories left in our hands, we will have to give compensation in the form of territories within the State of Israel,” Israel’s prime minister said in an interview published Monday in Yediot Achronot.

It is the first time Olmert has been so specific about what he believes a peace with the Palestinians will look like. Yediot pointed out in the article that Olmert did not go so far in his statements when he was firmly in office and not the caretaker head of a government in transition.

Yes, interesting that he didn’t say this when he actually had power. This is like an awkward night out with unassertive friends. Everyone wants to get ice cream, but no one wants to admit they want ice cream because they’re afraid that no one else wants it. So everyone stands around wanting it and not getting it because no one’s willing to put themselves out there and say that they want it.

Godot’s not going to show up, people. Someone has to make a move.

Starting the year off right

L’Shanah Tovah, all. B’Tselem now has an American presence!

Israeli Rights Watchdog Sets Up Shop in Washington

Washington — A new and unusual player is joining the Israel advocacy scene in the nation’s capital.

B’Tselem, Israel’s leading human rights watchdog organization, launched its Washington operation September 24, aiming to spread information regarding Israeli human rights abuses against Palestinians to the crowd of Capitol Hill policymakers and Middle East think tanks, and to the American Jewish community.

“This is definitely not a common phenomenon,” said Hadar Harris, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at the American University in Washington. “There is a unique opportunity for education and outreach by maintaining a Washington presence that B’Tselem will try to take advantage of.”

B’Tselem was founded in 1989 and quickly became a primary source of information on human rights issues in the Palestinian territories. It documents events of mistreatment and abuse of Palestinians, whether by the Israeli military, the government or settlers, and publishes periodical reports.

Recently, the group launched its Shooting Back program, in which video cameras were provided to Palestinians in areas prone to settler violence. Later, their footage is used to identify abusers and to file official complaints.

I think this quote is dead-on:

“So far, the reaction in the community is very positive,” said Mitchell Plitnick, the group’s U.S. outreach director. “We offer constructive criticism. We’re trying to make a better Israel.”

Criticism of Israel that doesn’t stem from hatred? Yes! It’s possible! Maybe once you’re finished with your tashlikh, you can toss them a donation. New offices need potted plants and mini-fridges, after all. Also copier paper.

Judging the Homeless

One question I’ve heard echoed several times since the announcement of the bailout plan is, “Why bail out the rich when we refuse to bail out the poor?” Why is the government rushing to help executives and not former homeowners? (Sure, there was that wishy-washy plan a few months ago, but that was nothing, in terms of speed and magnitude, compared to this.) Why the double standard? Why the blatant hypocrisy?

One argument has to do with trickle-down theories and chain reactions: if large companies like Fannie Mae or AIG go under, the effects will ripple throughout the entire economy. Better to save their asses and protect our own jobs. And while there are flaws in that logic, it’s an argument worth considering.

That doesn’t explain people’s attitudes toward the bailout, though.

When I explain how college administrations exploit me and my colleagues, the number one comment I get from conservatives is that I’m “whining.” I’m “complaining.” I should suck it up, accept what I’m worth, or get another job if I’m so unhappy. If the “market” mows me over? If I fall ill while underinsured? I deserve it! Maybe I’ll die! Good riddance! (Anyone who sees this paragraph as more whining is free to turn off their computer and go for a walk; don’t bother commenting, because it won’t appear.) I don’t take the attacks personally, though, because that type of rhetoric is par for the course. When a lefty type – or, even worse, a poor or working-class lefty type – asks for help, spit froths and teeth gnash. People get angry at that shit. They get dramatic. You’d think they were being asked to kill their pets or something. It’s almost as if – bear with me here, because I know this is wild – people take pleasure in punishing victims. Yet, throughout this new crisis, I’ve noticed a curious dearth of ad hominem attacks leveled at CEOs. Sure, plenty of conservatives are angry, but the vitriol I’ve seen is nothing compared to the vicious attacks routinely leveled at the poor and working class.

You’re probably expecting me to spend the next two thirds of this blog post complaining about what rotten people conservatives are. Actually, I’d like to talk about my fellow leftists. I’ve found myself thinking, over the past few days, about the ways people with class privilege approach the homeless. I know many people who like to offer homeless people food – bread, apples, lunch meat, whatever. Sometimes they carry it around with them in case they encounter someone begging; other times, they make a field trip out of it, hitting a grocery store and then taking the goods around a neighborhood. On the surface, this seems pretty noble – after all, those people need food, right? Fresh fruit! Protein! Good stuff! Surely they’ll appreciate it and eat it up and we’ll have done a good deed.

Except… well, first off, I’ve never personally witnessed someone doing this. I always encounter it in the form of a brief anecdote: this one thing that they tried this one time. And the punch line’s always the same. “I offered him a perfectly good nutritious apple,” the progressive says with a sad shake of the head, “…and he didn’t even want it!”

(The point being that all the guy really wanted was money for heroin and booze, and oh why should we even try to help these people when they’re too lazy to help themselves well I wash my hands of the whole thing!)

I hear the same hopeless condescension in discussions on the myriad addictions of the homeless. Why should I give him change when he’ll just spend it on drugs? Why should I help him when he’s spending his money on liquor? Or alternately: I only give money to people who are honest – the ones who just admit that they’re going to spend it on drugs and liquor!

If you’ll allow me a digression, let me explain why this reasoning doesn’t work. First off, the homeless do often have access to food; they’re not necessarily relying on your Red Delicious to stay alive. Soup kitchens, shelters, and nonprofit organizations work to provide the homeless with basic sustenance. Putting aside, for now, the question of drugs and alcohol, it’s actually a little absurd to decide that the only thing the homeless should ever desire from passersby is food or money for food. The average American spends around 10% of their income on food; why should the homeless spend 100%? If a person who has lost their apartment wants to purchase, say, a cup of coffee, why do we obsess over denying them that right? (There’s also the possibility that the guy to whom you’re offering food simply doesn’t like what you’re trying to give him. Perhaps he’d rather have the money to choose his own food. You could argue that he should just choke it down – but if you’re feeling so generous, why not give him the money instead?)

When you factor in people’s immediate assumption that if the homeless are not buying food, they’re obviously buying drugs, the attitude towards giving becomes even more condescending. Behind the assumption that the homeless are buying intoxicants lies the assumption that the homeless are uniformly addicted to intoxicants: that every homeless woman who buys weed is also a heroin addict, that every homeless man who buys beer is an alcoholic. Now, it’s true that a disproportionate number of homeless people suffer from addiction, and that addiction (in conjunction with health issues, housing costs, and other factors) is a leading cause of homelessness. But notice how we skip straight to the assumption that every homeless person we see, no matter how lucid they seem, is an addict? Do we check for slurred speech or needle tracks before we assume that they’ll “just spend it on drugs?” No. Often, we shake our heads at their alcohol use on our way to the bar. We deny them money on the off chance that they’ll buy something we don’t want them to buy, and then proceed to pay our government officials’ salaries. The assumption that the homeless must be kept away from harmful substances at all costs (to them, not us) is, when you think about it, an astoundingly patronizing double standard. We can be trusted to drink and smoke in moderation. They can’t.

So where am I going with this? Like I said, what I want to call attention to is the attitude that comes with giving. Because whenever I hear a leftist with privilege talking about that one time they tried to give someone a loaf of bread, I always detect a note of satisfaction in their voice. If this were truly a problem for people – if people with homes truly cared about the homeless and wanted to help them – we would scramble for other ways to accomplish that. We would engage with them, let them tell us what they need. We would give our money to shelters and programs. We would work harder to create safety nets. But we don’t. The people who moan about the futility of giving don’t really want to give. Instead, they go through the motions so they can get to that punch line: “There’s no point in trying, because they’re lazy and weak and thus belong where they are.”

Why are we amenable to bailing out the rich, but not the poor? It’s not entirely about economics. It’s not even entirely about stinginess or apathy. It’s about power. When I have money and you don’t, I’m more powerful than you are. And when I have a choice to make – dissolving that power by giving you what you need, or holding onto that power by putting you in your place – it’s much more thrilling to peck my way up to a higher spot in the order. That’s why it’s so satisfying, for so many liberal-minded people, to sigh over the incompetency of those who seem dependent on our kindness. The categories “we” and “they” solidify. “We” would never end up in that position, because “we” are better and smarter. The gap between liberal and conservative suddenly shrinks to nothing.

To many middle- and upper-class people across the political spectrum, the executives at Fanny Mae and AIG look much more familiar than the woman pushing a shopping cart down 5th street – or the family who took out a subprime loan. And even when those execs are forced to sell their private jets, we know they’ve still got power, and that thrill of subjugation is absent. The line between “we” and “they” is permeable, as the American Dream tells us it should be. Sure, some of us feel the vindictive pleasure of seeing the mighty brought down low – but that’s not the same as wagging our finger, smugly keeping our handful of change, and keeping our privilege (to drink without being judged, to spend our income how we please) in place. It’s hard to get angry when we can’t be patronizing, too. When the person in need is at or above our level, we choose to give, even if reluctantly. If that person is below us, we choose – gleefully – to withhold.

Notice how I can’t help but describe it in terms of up and down? Notice how much we cling to this hierarchy – even when we tell ourselves we’re trying to level it?

And notice how I’m the twenty gazillionth person to say this, and nothing whatsoever has changed?

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog)

I Was Polled

(cross-posted from Two Women Blogging)

And it went like this:

Age? (glad to know there are still a few categories older than mine)

Household income? (several categories below us, not as many above)

Religion? Jewish

Reform, Orthodox or Conservative? Reconstructionist

Oh. Hang on (sound of computer keys tapping).

OK. Do you belong to a synagogue? Yes

Do you go to synagogue services or participate in events a) once a year b) once a month c) once a week d) other? C

Who do you prefer in the Presidential election? I prefer Hillary Clinton, but I’m going to vote for Barack Obama.

Um. It’s OK, you can just put Obama.

OK. What do you like most about John McCain? Nothing.

I beg your pardon? Nothing. There’s nothing I like about McCain.

What do you like least about John McCain? His hypocrisy.

These are interesting answers. Thank you.

What do you like least about Barack Obama? He’s too conservative on abortion rights.

Did you vote in the last Presidential election? Did you skip a question?

I’m sorry? I said, did you skip a question? You asked me what I liked and disliked about McCain. you didn’t ask me what I liked about Obama, only what I disliked.

Well, that’s how this poll is written. Then I don’t want to participate. Please discard my answers.

So I lost my chance to find out if this was the poll Sam told me about yesterday, the one where they’re calling homes in heavily Jewish districts to ask “Would you support Obama if you knew he wanted to negotiate with the Palestinians by talking to Hamas?” Never mind that Hamas is the government of the Palestinian Authority, so “negotiating with Hamas” could also be called “participating in the peace process”.

Barack Obama and the rabbis

Andy Bachman from Jewschool recently participated in a conference call with 900 other rabbis in America. It’s a good read.

What’s interesting here, of course, is that of the questions he fielded only one of them had to do with Israel, and the rest of them had to do with education, health-care, and social programs.

Now I know, you’re thinking, “American Jews have issues on their horizon that don’t involve Israel? You’re insane!” Well, I assume it’s true. Being Canadian, of course, I don’t really have my finger on the pulse of American Jewry as much as I might like to think from time to time, but I’ve heard rumors that Jews fall across all economic classes and thus have concerns common to the rest of America.

Who knew, right?

The Banality of Violence

On GlobalComment: MTV Ukraine polls its viewers on whether or not it’s okay to beat girls. Also, is it okay to drink milk after the expiration date? Is it okay to take a dollar on the ground when it’s clear no one’ll claim it? Is it okay to underline something in a library book if you erase it before you return it? Things that make ya go hmm!

And from a Free Gaza email update: An Israeli navy boat recently rammed a Gazan fishing boat, severely damaging it. When Ampersand alerted Alas readers about a similar incident, one commenter’s response was that the fishermen “probably threw a fish at them.” (This commenter later claimed, on a different post, that he had less sympathy for Holocaust victims than he did for oppressed peoples who actually put up a fight. When I post on Alas, I try to stay professional, but since this is my space, I’m going to express my honest opinion. FUCK YOU, ASSHOLE.)

It’s not some outside malevolent force that perpetuates violence. It’s our own apathetic excuses. If we can convince ourselves that “they deserved it” – that they did something, anything, any little thing at all to warrant some kind of punishment which just happens to be the punishment they happened to get – then we don’t have to admit that someday, we may be in the same position. Injustice is a call to action, so the solution is obviously to pretend that everything that happens is just.

Charity Begins at Home

So far today I’ve received three Emails from various Jewish organizations about Hurricane Ike. Two national listserves and one local group, all of whom want me to know that the Jewish communities in Houston and Galveston and parts coastal have arranged to receive my donations for aid after the storm through my local Jewish Federation.

I’m sure a great deal of aid will be needed, and I’m sure Jews will be affected, since Jews live there. I want to help. I’m aware that giving money is more useful than donating old clothes, and I’m not hopping on a bus or a truck to go down and work with my hands, so I probably will make a donation. And yet those appeals make me uncomfortable. I don’t like the assumption that I should donate to a Jewish organization when the suffering will be universal.

On the other hand, there was a time when Jews couldn’t safely turn to the mainstream relief organizations for aid. My mother gave money to help Katrina victims through her local UJA/Federation chapter because she refuses to support the Red Cross. She’s not upset about the contemporary Red Cross criticizing Israel or the unconscionably long delay in welcoming the Magen David Adom into the International Federation/Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. She’s thinking of World War II, when the Red Cross failed to condemn the concentration camps and (according to my mother) did not treat Jewish-American soldiers with the same respect as Christian soldiers during family crises. My mother, as we’ve seen, does not forget.

Why does it matter? Our local Federation chapter assured us after Katrina that they sent funds to umbrella relief organizations, not just to Jewish charities. So what difference does it make? Why do I care? Why did those Emails irritate me so?

I suspect it’s my own stuff, my displeasure at the reminder that I am Other, that even in times of national crisis and natural disaster, I stand somewhat apart from many other Americans. Jews take care of our own, and we do it in large part because for generations we have known that no one else will take care of us. We come together as a community to sustain ourselves and to continue our tradition, but we also come together in our own schools and hospitals and community centers to be safe, to be sure we are welcome, to avoid persecution. I am privileged to live, most of the time, without remembering that, and it is uncomfortable when that lens of privilege darkens, even for a moment.

This is Elul, the month when we are commanded to reflect on our sins and seek forgiveness. On this Shabbat, I think of those in Ike’s path – Jews and non-Jews, Americans and those from other lands, poor and wealthy – and I am humbled and ashamed at my own self-absorption. I am blessed to be able to give to help them, and I will, even if it means fishing one of those Emails out of my trash folder.