Guilt is not genetic

Knesset Member Shelly Yachimovich of Labor says she’ll skip German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s speech, in German, to the Knesset, Ha’aretz reports. Arieh Eldad of the far-right National Union, to do her one worse, said he’ll wait for her to start speaking, then stand up and leave the hall.

“I can’t bear the thought of hearing German in the Knesset,” he said. “This is the language my grandparents were murdered in.”

Eldad’s promise to insult has a certain internal logic. He belongs to a political camp that treats nations as organic units, erasing the individual. The fact that Merkel was born nine years after the Holocaust is irrelevant. For him, Germanness is guilty.

Yachimovich has no such excuse

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On Spitzer, the neo-liberalism of misled progressives, and the Book of Esther

Recent news about the ex-governor of New York has revived debate among my progressive friends about the proper legal approach to prostitution.

To this debate, I offer a memory of walking through Bangkok 20 years ago. My wife and I had been in the town a week, interviewing the city’s Jewish ruby dealers. One evening, on a side street in the gem district, we passed an open door under a neon sign and I glanced in. In a waiting room, several men stood looking past a glass wall. Beyond it was a sloped gallery, where women sat in theater seats wearing black bikinis or thin slips. And each wore a round, numbered badge, so a client could ask for lot 23, or 37. Even if the women had the human form, they had the function of merchandise, of animal commodities.

The scene conjured up some lines from Walt Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric”:

A man’s body at auction
For before the war I often go to the slave-mart and watch the sale,
I help the auctioneer, the sloven does not half know his business.
Gentleman, look at this wonder
Whatever the bids of the bidders they cannot be high enough for it
For it the globe lay preparing quintillions of years…
In this head the all-baffling brain
In it and below it the making of heroes…

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‘How to Prove You’re a Jew’ – Afterthoughts, aftershocks

Obama Converts to Judaism” says a headline on Huffington Post, which I found via the eternally alert Laura Rozen at War and Piece.

Buffeted by criticism of his controversial Christian pastor while continuing to quell rumors that he is a Muslim, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill) took a bold step today to settle questions about his religious faith once and for all.

“I am converting to Judaism, effective immediately,” Mr. Obama told reporters…

I know this is meant humorously, because it ends with:

…the move raised the ire of one of his harshest critics, former Rep. Geraldine Ferraro. “Barack Murray Obama wouldn’t be in the position he’s in if he wasn’t Jewish,” said Ms. Ferraro…

but I still wanted to zap a message to Obama warning him: For heaven’s sake, don’t do it. It’s enough he has to prove he’s pro-Israel. Must he add the problem of convincing the Israeli rabbinate that he is a Jew? Believe me, it won’t be easy.

When I wrote “How to Prove You’re a Jew” for the New York Times Magazine, I guessed it would stir interest. I didn’t imagine how much. One friend told me it had been emailed to her 20 times. She also told me she’d had a terribly difficult time proving she was a Jew when she got married here in Israel a couple of years ago, despite

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McCain, Hagee, Lieberman, Clinton, Obama: Who’s good for Israel

John McCain is coming to Israel in order to attract Jewish voters back home, James Besser reports in The Jewish Week.

It’s difficult to decide which of the Republican Jews that Jim quotes win the chutzpah award.

“No one in this race has a more consistent record in support of Israel than Sen. McCain,” said Fred Zeidman, a longtime Jewish Republican leader and a top McCain fundraiser. “He has a proven record on Israel, and that resonates with our community.” Zeidman said McCain’s hawkish stands on national security and the war on terrorism will also appeal to Jewish voters…

Is this the same John McCain who has unstintingly supported an unnecessary war in Iraq that has “aggrandized Iranian power” (to cite Israeli strategic analyst Yossi Alpher), given Al-Qaeda a base in the region, and unleashed a flood of refugees that could destabilize Jordan, a strategic partner of Israel? That’s a proven record, but it doesn’t prove McCain is good for Israel.

Not to mention the latest AJC survey of American Jewish opinion, which shows that US Jews disapprove of how the current president – embraced by McCain

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Hatred, or Judaism told backwards

The student who called me told me that he saw the poster in his yeshivah. At the top it says, in Hebrew, “The Arab enemy is within Jerusalem!” Next Sunday, it says, at the end of the week of mourning for the students killed in the attack at Merkaz Harav, “We will get up and act” by marching to the house of the terrorist in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber and demolishing it.

The particular phrase for “to act” – la’asot ma’aseh – is one consistently used by the far right for privatizing violence: The state has refrained from punishing Arabs qua Arabs, as a group, a faceless mass, so let us do it. The words carry a hint, a lynch mob murmur, of ma’aseh Pinhas – an allusion to the original angry young man, the first fanatic, Pinhas, in the book of Numbers. At the bottom of the poster are words from the Book of Esther, “To the contrary, the Jews dominated those who hated them.”

Esther is read on the holiday of Purim, which falls a few days after the planned march. The poster is a call to celebrate the holiday early with a march of angry young men into an Arab neighborhood – with a pogrom. To emulate the Jews who defended themselves from hate-enraged mobs in ancient Persia, Jews will become a hate-enraged mob in the sacred city.

It would be simplest for me to say that this is a modern aberration, a twisting of Judaism with no precedent. That’s half-wrong, though:

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Math of Democracy, lesson 2

Shas is claiming credit – or should we say “responsibility”? – for the recent approval of construction in the bedroom settlement of Givat Ze’ev. The ultra-Orthodox party was looking for a justification to stay in Ehud Olmert’s coalition; now it can say it melted the settlement freeze. Who wants to bet that Secretary Rice will not provide any counter-pressure?

On the surface, Olmert has little choice but to give into Shas. Without its 12 Knesset members, his coalition shrinks to 55, and he needs more than 60 to rule. Inside and outside Israel, this leads to criticism of proportional representation, of weak coalition government and of the power of the ultra-Orthodox to blackmail the majority. That’s a mistake.

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A radical idea becomes conventional

In Ha’aretz this morning, eternal pundit Yoel Marcus comes out for including Hamas in peace negotiations:

Abbas and his buddies no longer reflect or represent the Palestinian reality of spring 2008.

…America must initiate and accept a change in the makeup of the Palestinian delegation, namely, the addition of a Hamas representative. This will allow the Israeli side to speak to those who are really running the Palestinian show today. Will Hamas want to? Will it say yes? That is the ultimate test of the Bush administration.

Marcus usually represents stolid, mildly left-of-center establishment thinking, as soporific as a Labor pol’s speech. For him to argue that Hamas must be included in talks indicates that the idea is moving from radical to conventional.

Other not terribly wild-eyed types have been voicing similar ideas.

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The Ministry of Dangerous Statements

Israeli Housing Minister Ze’ev Boim has given instructions to renew building of a major development in the West Bank settlement of Givat Ze’ev, northwest of Jerusalem. (Here’s an earlier Hebrew report on the affair.) The development is planned for ultra-Orthodox Jews, and the ultra-Orthodox Shas party has been pressing to go ahead. So much for the “total freeze” on settlement construction that Vice Premier Haim Ramon described at a press briefing several weeks ago. What’s even scarier is this:

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Indivisible tragedy, murderous symbols

Across the page of my morning paper are the pictures of eight teenage boys murdered in the terror attack at Merkaz Harav yeshiva last week. They demand of me to imagine lives that will not be lived. The pictures have a dark magic; they try to conjure up the thought that a parent must force himself not to think, because otherwise it would be impossible to get through the day.

The sound of the newspaper page as I turn it is a whisper: The season of killing has not ended. There was a lull, like a few sunny days in the midst of the winter rains in Jerusalem. We must think about whether the children should ride the bus, whether to set appointments in cafes. I went and had coffee this morning anyway on Emek Refaim. An act of sumud, sticking to the soil.

Of course there has not even been a lull in the killing in Gaza or in Sderot. The dead of one’s own city are more noticeable, and the dead of one’s own side: No Israeli paper prints a long line of pictures of those who died on a given day in Gaza. The one-sided mourning is inevitable, and is a dangerous illusion. The tragedies are indivisible.

Friday, the morning after the attack, Ha’aretz reported that Prime Minister Olmert said

“It shows the extent to which the Palestinian Authority is insufficiently fighting terror. We will not make our peace with such events.”

A reflexive and foolish response.

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The Math of Democracy; the Miscalculation of Occupation

How many Palestinians live in the West Bank, and does it matter?

On Thursday, right-wing think-tanker and publicist Yoram Ettinger will lecture (in Hebrew) at Bar-Ilan University and will make a might effort to prove that there a lot fewer Palestinians than the Palestinian Authority claims, and that this matters tremendously. Or so I judge from the title of his talk (“Palestinian Demography: Myth or Fact”) and from articles he has written and a major study in which he collaborated. Unless Ettinger has decided to recant, in fact, you can learn what he has to say on the subject online, without shlepping to Ramat Gan. I’m agnostic about Ettinger’s numbers. But I’m sure he flunks the mathematics of democracy.

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McCain, Hagee, and Sympathy for the Assassin

John Hagee – pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, founder of Christians United for Israel, and eager herald of End – has endorsed John McCain for president of the United States. One reason that Hagee gave for his choice was McCain’s “support of the state of Israel.” Hagee also claimed that he personally backs Israel because it is a democracy, not because of its place in apocalyptic scenarios. One must presume that after saying these words at a San Antonio press conference, the good minister turned and gave an immense wink to anyone who has read his books.

In 1996, Hagee turned out “Beginning of the End: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Coming Antichrist.” It fits a genre of “prophecy” works churned out by popularizers of dispensational premillennialism: To prove that the final seven years of history are about to begin, he presents a standard list of verses and his own collection of headlines that supposedly fulfill scriptural predictions. His description of the last seven years – the so-called Tribulation – is pornographically violent. (Despite Hagee’s disrespect for Catholicism, I’d bet Mel Gibson would love to film the gore that Hagee describes, which includes a 200-mile river of blood.) The ultimate proof that the End is coming is the creation of the State of Israel. Hagee manages to bend the murder of Prime Minister Rabin into additional evidence. As a good dispensationalist, Hagee portrays the seven years ending with Jesus’s return and the Jews accepting him en masse.

Before getting to the End, Hagee express uncommon sympathy for Yigal Amir,

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