Fear-mongering on Iran meets LOLcatz

They say mockery is highest form of flattery, right? A web commentator (who prefers to remain anonymous) forwarded around this graffitied explanation of The Israel Project’s latest infographic. This is the same pro-settler advocacy group that brought you faked hundreds signatures on their last Iran petition and teaches their advocates to accuse Obama of “ethnically cleansing” Jews from Israel while arguing that settlements were necessary for Israeli security. After the Pew study on American Jews’ views of settlements (news flash: we’re not fans), you have to wonder whether this group is still within the mainstream.

But the Israel Project nevertheless wants you to help them undermine President Obama’s current success with Iranian negotiations. You know, only the first President in, oh, 40 years to reopen diplomatic relations with that country, halt several Israeli strikes that would have cost Israeli and American lives, and put a permanent, peaceful solution within reach. So yeah, infographic notwithstanding, I think I’ll support Secretary of State Kerry’s amazing accomplishments in the region.

Some other red lines

The West Bank flouts any democratic principles you could imagine for a population 88% Palestinian Arab and 12% Israeli Jew. Hey, Netanyahu, how about them red lines? (By Peace Now.)

And the New Israel Fund too, if only this were true:  More »

A Lack of Imagination is Dangerous: On Israel, Iran and ♥

There is something of a surprising campaign which has taken hold on Facebook which has also garnered some attention in the press. Two Israelis, Roni Edry and Michal Tamir added a poster to their Facebook profile with this statement in bold colors: “Iranians, we will never bomb your country. We ♥ you.” Within days there were tens of thousands of “likes” on Facebook, messages from around the world, a new Facebook page and even hundreds of positive responses from Iran.

What to make of all this? All the messages seem rather sappy and simplistic. “We ♥ you” is not a foreign policy. It is not a negotiating position. It is not even an obvious claim on justice or morality. It is strange.

It does, however, have resonance in its simplicity. This counterpoint to the bombast of Iranian, Israeli and American leaders is stark in the very minimalism of its claims. There is a rather strong denial of what French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas calls the “ontology of war” in these statements. The ontology of war is the understanding that peace comes at the end of a narrative which includes victory over the enemy. Peace, then is one stage in an ongoing process of war. Inevitably, peace will also be followed by war, since the peace is only assured by victory. Peace which does not partake of this narrative, peace which is a response to the Other, makes one vulnerable.

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Purim, Persia, and … Ahmadinejad?

Purim is upon us. Remember Purim? For those not in the know, Purim is the next in the order of Jewish holidays which fit the meme: “they tried to kill us, they didn’t, lets eat,”—though Purim adds “and drink,”—a lot. Most Jews who celebrate Purim remember it as the story of the evil Haman who bribed the buffoonish King Ahaseurus to kill all the Jews in the Persian kingdom as a result of his rivalry with the Jewish courtier Mordecai. The story is situated in the second or third century BCE in Shushan the capital of Persia. According to most scholars the story is a myth. However, like all myths, the story seems to reflect a deep truth and it has resonated with Jews over the centuries since it reflected the fact that in many countries over time Jews had been threatened with extinction by a variety of satraps and princes and ministers and so on, and had survived against all odds.

The Purim story (told in the biblical Book of Esther) is also different insofar as the Jews not only survived but they fought back and killed those who would have killed them—and their wives and children. This fantasy of revenge must have resonated deeply for a Jewish community in the many stations of the diaspora in which they were powerless against the actual enemies who wished them actual harm.

There is however a different reading of the Book of Esther which offers the Purim narrative as a darker story which poses a different set of questions. The key to the story is a statement by a Rabbi who lived centuries after the story might have happened, in the place that it was supposed to have happened—Persia. Before we get to this statement I will summarize the story itself for those whose biblical knowledge is a bit rusty.  More »

In which Richard Silverstein misses the point

Richard Silverstein is one of my favorite writers on Israel-Palestine.  He’s a principled liberal with an eye for political realities, and an unwavering dedication to peace.  He tends to be one of the best at cutting through whatever the day’s talking points and divisive arguments are (from both the right and the left) and really getting to the heart of matters.  And he’s superb at contextualizing current events in terms of the larger political and cultural struggle for peace.

All of this is to say that he’s generally pretty awesome.  Which is why I was a bit disappointed to see his post from last week fisking an Israel lobby “stop Iranian nukes by ending foreign oil dependence” petition.

I kid you not, the best that the brightest minds behind the Israel lobby could devise in preparation for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s upcoming appearance at the UN in New York is taking out this full-page ad in the N.Y. Times, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, and saying the way to stop Iran’s ‘unquenchable thirst’ for nuclear weapons is to stop using oil.

I agree with Silverstein that Iran is too often used by Israel apologists as a distraction from more pressing issues, and I too resent the tendency of the organizations behind this ad (according to Silverstein they include AIPAC, the ADL, B’nai Brith, and others) to paint complicated issues as simple goodguys-vs.-badguys scenarios, but criticizing someone who advocates energy independence puts you in a tricky position.  Silverstein does address this near the beginning of his post:

Well, OK, not all oil, we can keep guzzling good ol’ U.S. crude, but “foreign” oil is bad.

He’s definitely hitting the nail on the head here: focusing only on foreign oil dependence tends to refocus the debate on energy instead of climate change (which in my opinion is the wrong focus).  That being said, anyone paying any attention to the domestic political discourse on climate change knows that some of our strongest allies are the guys with national security credentials and the businesspeople.  The former are already on board; the challenge now is wooing the latter.  The tripartisan (it is ridiculous that that is even a term) climate bill that was supposed to be introduced last week made some pretty excellent progress on this, but it’s slow going.  For some inspiration, here’s what Thomas Friedman thinks Obama should say:

“Yes, if we pass this energy legislation, a small price on carbon will likely show up on your gasoline or electricity bill. I’m not going to lie. But it is an investment that will pay off in so many ways. It will spur innovation in energy efficiency that will actually lower the total amount you pay for driving, heating or cooling. It will reduce carbon pollution in the air we breathe and make us healthier as a country. It will reduce the money we are sending to nations that crush democracy and promote intolerance. It will strengthen the dollar. It will make us more energy secure, environmentally secure and strategically secure. Sure, our opponents will scream ‘carbon tax!’ Well, what do you think you’re paying now to OPEC? The only difference between me and my opponents is that I want to keep any revenue we generate here to build American schools, American highways, American high-speed rail, American research labs and American economic strength. It’s just a little tick I have: I like to see our spending build our country. They don’t care. They are perfectly happy to see all the money you spend to fill your tank or heat your home go overseas, so we end up funding both sides in the war on terrorism — our military and their extremists.”

Climate change is as much, if not more, of a threat to our national security as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The two issues make for strange bedfellows, to be sure.  But right now we need more bedfellows, not less.  These are global problems, and if takes the whole globe in bed together to find solutions, then so be it.

Fight for Iranian Freedom, Not for Bombs or Sanctions

There are ways to support human rights in Iran with advocating for neither shock and awe nor estrangulation of civilians. In Congress now are two brilliant bills supported by Americans for Peace Now which help human rights activists in Iran:

HR 4301 – the Iran Digital Enhancement Act (IDEA) would help give the Iranian people the high-tech tools they need to communicate online. It would also make it harder for the Iranian government to monitor or block Internet communications. 

HR 4303 – the Stand with the Iranian People Act (SWIPA) would punish corporations that help the Iranian government stifle free speech. It would also allow American nonprofits to provide humanitarian aid within Iran. And it would bar Iranian officials who have abused the human rights of the Iranian public from entering the United States.

Presently it is illegal for American companies to do business in Iran — including Twitter, Facebook, and the tools used by the Green movement activists to bypass the Iranian government’s stifling media control. More »

Israel Project Caught Faking Thousands of Names on Iran Petition

Comfeylovely, Viagra Kaufen Viagra, Porn Sex Video, Stupidwhiteman V., and Xbox 360 all signed the Israel Project’s petition for sanctions on Iran. Vince Vince was such a fan that he signed the  petition 220 times — from different states and a few that don’t exist. Spencer Ackerman at the Washington Independent breaks the story. The Israel Project’s founder and director, Jennifer Lazlo Mizrahi, claims they uploaded the “wrong file” for public viewing and will post the real one sometime soon.

Vince Vince signatures

The Israel Project made headlines this summer for the content of their debate guide, where they recommended pro-Israel supporters label the removal of settlements as “ethnic cleansing”! Since the American and Israeli publics both support the  removal of most settlements by huge margins — 60% – 70% — I don’t understand why the Israel Project is agitating keeping them.

This petition snafu is just another tool in the box of an organization that is underhanded in its support for Israel. If “support” is really what we can call these media tangles. I hope the Israel Project’s supporters see that at least under Mizrahi’s direction, the Israel Project hurts the future of Israel.

But is the Israel Project really in need of forging so many signatures to make the case for sanctions against Iran? If the Jewish community is indeed so in line behind sanctions, then why the fakery? Could it be that American Jews actually aren’t so single-minded?

I await the “real” list from Mizrahi.

Conservative Movement: Hatikvah Instead of Shofar

The Rabbinical Assembly distributed this letter today to its members, asking its rabbis to read the piece below in lieu of the Shofar service on Rosh Hashanah. (The shofar is traditionally not sounded when RH falls on Shabbat, as it does this year.)


On this Rosh Hashanah our brothers and sisters in Israel face the threat of a nuclear Iran – a threat to Israel’s very existence.

Today, we Jews around the world also confront the anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment of the Goldstone report which blames Israel disproportionately for the tragic loss of human life incurred in Operation Cast Lead, which took place last winter in Gaza. This unbalanced United Nations sponsored report portends serious consequences for Israel and the Jewish people.

On this holy day, which is not only Rosh Hashanah, but also Shabbat, the Shofar is silent in the face of this spurious report, the world is far too silent.

Today the state of Israel needs us to be the kol shofar, the voice of the shofar!

We ask you to write to our governmental leaders and call upon them to condemn the Goldstone report and to confront the threat of a nuclear Iran.

While the shofar is silent today, all Conservative rabbis, cantors and congregations have been asked to sing Hatikvah at this moment in the service.

We rise in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel.

What troubles me most about this suggestion is how profoundly it flies in the face of the very meaning of the festival itself. On Rosh Hashanah, we affirm Malchuyot – God’s sovereignty over the universe. Rosh Hashanah is the only time of the year that Jews are commanded to bow all the way to the ground and pledge our allegiance to God and God alone. We acknowledge that our ultimate fealty lies with a Power beyond ourselves, beyond any mortal ruler, any government, any earthly power.

Beyond the political arguments over such a statement, it strikes me as something approaching idolatry.

I’m curious to know your reactions, particularly in regard to its religious implications.

Iran to Israel

With all the unrest in Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad needs to escape for a while. What better place to go than Israel! Will Birthright Israel help him get there?

Attacking Iran’s nuclear program could destroy Israel, kill American soldiers

Many folks don’t know that The Forward editor Larry Cohler-Esses lived in Iran for five years and speaks fluent Farsi. So when he and Nathan Guttman report on a new and most comprehensive analysis by one of the leading mideast military strategists and a former advisor to the King of Jordan which spells catastrophe for an Israeli military strike against Iran, we sit up and listen.

The heart of the 114-page report spells the costs: a crippling rate of aircraft attrition, the opening of renewed all-out war by Arab-Muslim states against not just Israel but the United States’ personnel, and the weakness of Israel to defend against the number of hostile rockets likely to be used in retaliation.

Their March 14 study notes that these defenses may include a deadly, ultra-sophisticated Russian anti-aircraft system that could down 20% to 30% of Israel’s attack aircraft — “a loss Israel would hardly accept in paying.” They note reports that Russia has secretly supplied Iran with this system, the SA-12 Gladiator/Giant. Also, even a successful Israeli attack on these three sites could prove futile, they warn, if Iran maintains secret facilities for uranium enrichment, as some suspect.

Meanwhile, in the event of an attack, Iran and its Shi’ite allies in neighboring countries would launch retaliatory attacks against Israel, American military forces in Iraq, and Western interests regionwide, Cordesman and Toukan suggest. They predict that these attacks would include ballistic missiles — including some with chemical, biological and radiological warheads — targeting “Tel-Aviv, Israeli military and civilian centers and Israeli suspected nuclear weapons sites.” Israel’s air defenses would not be adequate to counter the tens of thousands of missiles likely, they add.

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AIPAC conference ends, J Street/BTShalom event prepares

AIPAC is big. JTA shows you the glitz, the shamless fearmongering (holocaust holocaust holocaust), the embarassing charades of politicians trying to pander, and a few courageous words about making peace (with scattered applause I might add):

Brit Tzedek v’Shalom’s annual event brought over 300 participants to Capital Hill — a small but growing presence.

Now J Street and BTShalom will jointly go to Washington, DC, on October 25-28, 2009 to put boots in legislators offices and show that the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement has grown in the past 20 years.

Care about peace? Come to DC. Care about building progressive Jewish life? Come to DC. Care about a future for Israel without occupation? Come to DC. Care about meeting your legislator face-to-face and taking back the Hill from the minority communal leadership who’s relationship to Israel is lockstep, right-wing and stuck in the 1940s?

Come to DC.

So What Happened at AIPAC?

Dr. David Albert, PhD, teaches Political Science in Austin, TX at Huston-Tillotson University, Austin Community College, and University of Texas – Extension Division.

Bibi Netanyahu (courtesy of the Washington Post)The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) held their annual Policy Conference in DC this week with 6000 delegates and a plethora of political figures. They are sailing in somewhat rougher political waters than they were last year when all three Presidential candidates – Sens. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain – and all four Congressional leaders (Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, and John Boehner) spoke at their Conference. They face a new President, Barack Obama, who has said he is committed to achieving a two-state solution (and won overwhelming support from American Jews in the Presidential election) and a new Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, who is squarely against a two-state solution.

So what did AIPAC do? More »

Europeans walk out of Ahmadinejad’s speech at Durban II

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said just after Ahmadinejad finished speaking and the delegates returned to the room, “I deplore the use of this platform by the Iranian president to accuse, divide and even incite. This is the opposite of what this conference seeks to achieve. We must all turn away from such a message in both form and substance.”

Oh, and there were clowns too.

It’s not as black and white as you think

The Canadian Muslim Congress condemns Hamas for using the Palestinian people as “human bait.”

Daily News Egypt and Qatar’s Al Arab publish a peice accusing Hamas of ignoring the Palestinian people in favor of a pissing contest with Israel. [Editor's Note: You can read the article's author's blog here for more progressive Muslim thoughts. Her story is getting picked up everywhere, thankfully.]

Iranian newspaper sympathizes with Israel and gets closed by the government. Meanwhile, Iranian Jews protest the IDF bombing (possibly a ruse, possibly real).

From Rassmussen polling: Half of Americans believe Israel’s actions will increase terrorism against the States. Sixty-two percent (62%) of men say the Palestinians are to blame versus 48% of women.

This links list brought to you by this Haaretz article and Google.

Home From Iran, Final Thoughts

During our final night in Iran, I was interviewed at length by two reporters from a Tehran newspaper. I mentioned to them that during my High Holiday sermon to my congregation, I noted that Americans (and especially American Jews) chronically misunderstand Iran. I told the reporters that ironically enough, I learned on this trip that I really hadn’t understood Iran nearly as well I as I had thought myself. More »

Spirit in Shiraz

Cross-posted from Shalom Rav.

Shrine of Ali Ibn Hamzeh

As the sun went down on Friday night, we gather in the venerated shrine of Ali Ibn Hamzeh (above and below). The inside of the mosque is inlaid with countless small mirrored tiles that reflect fragments of light, movement and the faces of everyone inside. As a young boy intones “Allah Hu Akhbar!” over the loudspeaker, worshippers file in, kneel and begin to pray. Even though it’s not my prayer tradition, even though I’m merely a guest, I’m palpably aware that I’m dwelling in sacred space and sacred time. I’m also also all too mindful that our journey through Iran is fast coming to a close. More »

Shabbat at a Tehran synagogue; a conversation with an Ayatollah

I want to paraphrase what I said to commentors in the initial installment of guest poster Cascadian’s travelogue to Iran. Immediately, comments appeared committing a classic Jewish prejudice regarding Iran: because Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier and regional warmongerer could never — NEVER — implicate all Iranians. They underscored the very purpose of Cascadian’s amazing and incredibly risky trip. Against a Jewish mythos which claims that Jews will be lynched in the streets, Cascadian is taking a potentially life-threatening chance doing what most Jews would never do: see if for themselves. It behooves us to hear everything about his trip, simply to honor the risks he may (or may not) be taking in cross-cultural dialogue.

In these two installments, Erev Shabbat and Yom Shabbat, Cascadian spends the good day with Iranian Jews who, to his own incredulous ears, tell him that Ahmadinejad is “good for the Jews” and walk the streets with their kipot openly.  The second correspondence gets into the politics of what Iranians think of themselves, Hezbollah, and nuclear weapons. Tehran is more than meets the eye, and the echo chamber of Jewish villainizing viz a viz Iran has fallen, unsurprisingly, as only half the truth. –KFJ

Iran Two: Erev Shabbat

Last night I fell in love.
It all started when a group of us were going for a walk. I decided to keep my kipah on, because we had Leila with us, who grew up in Iran, so speaks perfect Farsi. This is relevant, because if someone had a question about what is that thing on my head, she would be able to explain, and also understand if the questioner was hostile.
“Are you a Jew?” a passerby asks incredulously to me. I have the current distinction on the trip as the only visible Jew; among the four Jewish men I am the only one who wears a yamika in non-ritual situations.
After being momentarily taken aback, I realize that he too is wearing a kipah. More »

A Minyan Enters Tehran

Guest post by Cascadian, a Jews in the Woodser who is presently on a Fellowship of Reconciliation trip to Iran. We’ll be guest posting much of his trip correspondence as he relates his first-hand impressions of the country the Jews presently love to hate. (His first paragraph is so noteworthy because last time he entered Israel, security held him for something like 12 hours.)

Last night, around 3 am in Tehran, I was accepted through passport security at the airport. The hassles didn’t turn out to be much; we didn’t get our bags searched, not even fingerprinted. The officer who was in charge of the x-ray machine wasn’t even looking at the screen as our bags filtered through.
As the plane landed, women covered their heads, many halfheartedly. The line of acceptability has been effectively challenged and blurred by the generation of modern women in Tehran; for some the hijab is halfway back on their heads, revealing plenty of hair, clearly stating “I’m just doing this ‘cus I have to.” This next to a handful of women, who are authentically observing the religious tradition.

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