Sunday, November 25, 2007

Friday, 23 November 2007

Military service haunts Israeli women

One posed for a photo as she scrubbed a Palestinian corpse. Another stripped a man to his underwear and then beat him. A third helped cover up the abuse of a young boy.

The six Israeli women who feature in the documentary, To See If I'm Smiling, each wrestle with memories of their compulsory military service that they would rather erase.

But after years of trying to bury the past, they have spoken out in a film that explores the darker side of Israel's 40-year-old occupation of the Palestinian territories and examines its impact on a generation of young men and women.

"It's easy to finish your military service and push it to the back of your mind," said director Tamar Yarom. "But these girls are telling their personal stories – which are not always very nice - to show people what is going on."

All but one of the women spent time as conscript soldiers in the Palestinian territories during the uprising that erupted in 2000. In the film, they recount their memories from that period, describing how they coped with military machismo and with the residual guilt about what they witnessed.

One girl who had wanted to save lives as a paramedic said she ended up scrubbing corpses to hide signs of abuse by Israeli soldiers. Visibly distressed, she looks for the first time in years at a photo of her and a dead Palestinian man.

"How in hell did I think I'd ever be able to forget?" she says, brushing away tears.

Although female soldiers are kept out of the front line, Israel is one of the only countries to enforce military service for women. Yarom aims to highlight the fragility of some girl soldiers – many still in their teens when they start their two year army stint – and the violence into which they are thrust.

"You expect women to be more sensitive to suffering and more empathetic to the other side. But the strength of the film is how it shows what happens to human beings in such a warped situation, and how women are not immune," Yarom said.

Yarom hopes the documentary will prompt soul-searching in the Jewish state, where military service is a core part of national identity, and encourage other traumatised ex-soldiers to talk about violence they may have inflicted or witnessed.

"This country is in a coma. With all the bombs and attacks, we are numb," she said.

"People feel we are in a war of survival and it's better not to criticise soldiers, because they are the ones protecting us."

Israel's army said in a statement that soldiers adhere to a strict ethical code and that in exceptional cases, where the code is violated, an investigation is launched. It said the number of ethical violations involving Palestinians had "consistently dropped" since the events described in the film.

Yarom expects the film will provoke criticism both from the Israeli left – because of her sympathetic portrayal of the soldiers - and from the right – which often balks at criticising the army.

Yarom said personal experience prompted her to make the film. As a support soldier during the earlier intifada of the 1980s, she was shown a Palestinian torture victim but failed to speak out.

Almost two decades later, she still cannot shake the image of the man, slumped over a generator, his neck bent to the side and his face covered in blood.

"It's the kind of picture that stays with you forever," she said. "During my service I detached myself. When you try to re-attach yourself afterwards it's painful."

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Subject: Modern Bethlehem
Date: Tue, 20 Nov 2007 13:55:13 +0000
Readers, Please cut and paste the following email address onto your address box to view disturbing pictures of today's Bethlehem.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The New McCarthyism


[from the November 12, 2007 issue]

Meet Professor Nadia Abu El-Haj, a notorious Barnard College professor now up for tenure who:

o claims the ancient Israelite kingdoms are a 'pure political fabrication,'

o denies the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 CE and instead blames its destruction on the Jews,

o does not speak or read Hebrew yet had the temerity to publish a book on Israeli archaeology that demanded such expertise,

o is so ignorant of her topic that she quotes one archaeologist on how a dig might have damaged the ancient palaces of Solomon--oblivious to the fact that those palaces, if they existed, were far from the site in question.

None of these charges are true. You could look it up. I did, in El-Haj's book Facts on the Ground, about which these charges are made. The statements for which a network of right-wing critics assail her book are not there.

I asked Paula Stern, the Barnard alum who has organized an online petition demanding that El-Haj be denied tenure, how she squared her petition's charges with El-Haj's book. 'The petition takes pieces of criticisms from experts. It may not be quoted 100 percent accurate,' she admitted. Still, more than 2,500 people, including many Barnard and Columbia alumni, have signed on to its claims. Tellingly, Stern, who now lives in the West Bank, voiced astonishment at being asked to justify her charges in terms of what El-Haj's book actually says. 'I've spoken to many newspapers,' she said. 'No one has done what you've done.'

I looked that up, too. In the key media venues, at least, Stern was right; and not just with regard to her target. In case after case, a network of right-wing activists has started an online furor based on a mélange of distorted or provably false charges against someone involved in Middle East studies. They supported these charges with quotes yanked out of context or entirely made up and wielded a broad brush of guilt by association. Right-wing media megaphoned the charges, stoking the furor. And mainstream media ultimately noticed and responded, often focusing their stories on the furor rather than the facts.

Under pressure from these assaults, some academic institutions buckle and a professor's career is derailed; in other cases it is permanently stained. More insidious, even when tenure puts an academic beyond the reach of his or her assailants, more vulnerable junior faculty and grad students take note. 'There certainly is a sense among faculty and grad students that they're being watched, monitored,' said Zachary Lockman, president of the Middle East Studies Association. 'People are always looking over their shoulder, feeling that whatever they say--in accurate or, more likely, distorted form--can end up on a website. It definitely has a chilling effect.'

This is the modus operandi of the New McCarthyism. It targets a new enemy for our era: Muslims, Arabs and others in the Middle East field who are identified as stepping over an unstated line in criticizing Israel, as radical Islamists, as just plain radical or as in some way sympathetic to terrorists. Its purveyors include Campus Watch, run by Arab studies scholar Daniel Pipes; the David Project, supported by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation; and David Horowitz's FrontPage Magazine (in October Horowitz organized an 'Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week' on campuses across the nation).

Their efforts often appear to be linked. As first noted by blogger Richard Silverstein, the earliest web attack on El-Haj's book was posted simultaneously by Campus Watch and FrontPage, in October 2005. Alexander Joffe, identified as a professor at SUNY, Purchase, published a harshly negative review of the book in The Journal of Near Eastern Studies that same month. The prestigious journal did not note--and was not informed--that he was then director of Campus Watch. Soon after, he became research director for the David Project. Less prominent researchers like Stern, the online PipeLine News and writers such as Beila Rabinowitz and William Mayer provide raw material to the more well-known portals, such as Pipes and Horowitz. Pipes's and Horowitz's material is, in turn, picked up by key conservative papers like the New York Post and New York Sun.

There is an undeniable security threat, but as in the 1950s the New McCarthyites use it as a base for demagogy. Their distinguishing feature is not concern about this threat but cynical indifference to the truth or decency of their charges. Take the case of Debbie Almontaser, the New York City public high school principal forced to resign in August as head of a new Arabic/English secondary school. The furor revolved around her attempt in an interview with the Post to explain the meaning of, rather than simply condemn, T-shirts bearing the words Intifada NYC. This provoked a firestorm. United Federation of Teachers chief Randi Weingarten, a key supporter of Almontaser's school, condemned her in a letter to the Post. The next day Almontaser resigned--a move publicly welcomed by Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Almontaser has since stated she was told to resign or the school, which she founded, would be closed.

In its obscuring, anodyne postmortem on the affair, the New York Times vaguely described Almontaser as a victim of the city's 'treacherous ethnic and ideological political currents' rather than of specific charges that were demonstrably false--like Pipes's widely publicized claim, based on a truncated quotation, that she denied Muslims or Arabs were involved in the 9/11 attacks. The Times report on El-Haj adopted a similar hands-off stance, simply quoting supporters and attackers. It did not once compare the activists' charges with what El-Haj actually said in her book.

As it happens, Almontaser's forced resignation was the city Education Department's second dive in the face of pressure from the New McCarthyites. Three years ago it dismissed Professor Rashid Khalidi, the esteemed director of Columbia's Middle East Institute, from lecturing teachers enrolled in professional development courses. The dismissal came in response to a Sun article claiming Khalidi had denounced Israel as 'a 'racist' state with an 'apartheid system.'' Khalidi denied the quote fragments as they were used in the story. 'I do not think Zionism is racist,' he told the Forward. 'When we talk about some of the contemporary laws, there are policies that I consider racist and discriminatory.' Asked if the department had verified Khalidi's purported remarks before dismissing him, a department spokesman avoided answering Times columnist Joyce Purnick.

Khalidi still has his day job, as does--so far--a nontenured Columbia colleague, Joseph Massad, who according to a special school investigative committee was falsely accused several years ago of discriminating against Jewish and Israeli students. The same cannot be said for Norman Finkelstein, who was terminated at Chicago's DePaul University in September after the school's president--in a rare departure from standard procedure--rejected the overwhelming tenure approval Finkelstein had received at both the departmental and college levels. Finkelstein's scholarly work has accused Jewish groups of exploiting the Holocaust and Israel of egregious human rights violations. He had incurred the special wrath of Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, whose book defending Israel Finkelstein had devoted an entire book to savaging. Dershowitz, in turn, tried unsuccessfully to prevent the University of California Press from publishing Finkelstein's book, and sent Finkelstein's tenure committees a dossier that he said documented his 'most egregious academic sins, and especially his outright lies, misquotations, and distortions.' Clearly, the tenure committees were not impressed by Dershowitz's claims. DePaul president Dennis Holtschneider, for his part, denied that Dershowitz's intervention affected his decision.

Beshara Doumani, a University of California history professor, has mapped the systemic strategy of the New McCarthyism, highlighting that more than just its targets are new. First and foremost, private advocacy groups, not Congressional committees, are by and large today's means of pressuring academic administrations--at least, so far. These groups often retain important ties to government figures. But they are most focused on organizing alumni and students, with an eye toward generating public outrage and eventually government and donor pressure.

'I'm worried about untenured professors trying to get tenure,' said Doumani, co-chair of the Middle East Studies Association's Committee on Academic Freedom. 'I'm worried about entire departments saying, 'We need people in Middle East positions, but we're not going to hire certain kinds of people. It involves too much headache, too much risk.' How do you quantify that? You can't. But it's going around. I can tell you, it's a real issue.'

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Monday, November 05, 2007

New ADL Survey on American Antisemitism

Forward Staff | Thu. Nov 01, 2007
A new poll put out by the Anti-Defamation League suggests that the level of “strong” antisemitic beliefs among Americans remain much lower than the levels seen in the organiza-tion’s European polls.

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The poll, conducted during October, indicates that 15% of Americans believe Jews have “too much power in the U.S.” The ADL is touting this figure as a rise over the past few years. In 1998, the same figure was 12%. But the 3% change is just slightly higher than the survey’s margin of error.

ADL’s attitudinal survey, conducted periodically since the 1960s, presents respondents with a series of 11 negative statements about Jews and asks whether or not they agree. Responses in-dicating agreement with six of the statements are categorized as “strongly antisemitic” for statistical purposes. The methodology has been criticized in the past for counting as antisemitic some responses that turn out in focus groups to be seen positively, such as “Jews always stick together.”
The survey still paints a brighter picture of America than comparable polls have in Europe. ADL surveys in Europe earlier this year found that more than a third of the respondents believe Jews have too much power.

The ADL’s surveys in America have taken a particularly close look at beliefs among African Americans and Latinos.
Among African Americans, negative views of Jews were almost three times as high as those among white respondents.
The ADL’s polls have traced what the organization sees as an improvement in views toward Jews in the Latino community. The number of foreign-born Latinos who hold what the ADL char-acterizes as strong antisemitic beliefs was 29%, down from 35% in last year’s poll. Among American-born Latinos, the figure is half as big — at 15%.

Overall, the survey found that 31% of Americans believe Jews are more loyal to Israel than to America. That figure is down slightly, from 33% in 2005. Twenty-seven percent of the respondents said that Jews were responsible for the death of Christ, down from 30% last year. The survey had 2,000 respondents and a margin of error of 2.19%.

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