Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Great Gilad Atzmon Paperchase

Respectfully submitted by the Makabit, notes on the events befalling the Bay Area Zionists on the evening of February 25, Oakland, California:

Gilad Atzmon can be described in a variety of ways. You could describe him, as his adoring fans do, as a 'prolific performer, composer, author and activist'. You could describe him as nearly everyone else does, as a unhinged hater whose writings drip with classical anti-Semitism and a poisonous hatred of Jews and Judaism. Or, you could describe him, as a lady of my acquaintance does, simply as 'someone who makes a living being a self-hating saxophonist'.

A brief primer on Gilad Atzmon for those of you who may have blissfully erased him from your memory banks since the last time he popped up. Atzmon is on record as saying:

“I’m not going to say whether it is right or not to burn down a synagogue. I can see that it is a rational act.”

“American Jews do try and control the world by proxy” 

“There is no such thing as anti-Semitism”
“Why is it that the Jews who repeatedly demand  that the Christian world should apologize for its involvement in previous persecutions, have never thought that it is about time that they apologized for killing Jesus?"

“I wanted to be an ordinary human being, which is very unusual for a Jew.”
He is most recently the author of a book entitled The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics, described by Walter Russell Mead as "a genuinely anti-Semitic book by a deeply twisted anti-Semite — who happens also to be Jewish." The book, among other things, speculates about the truth of the blood libel, and points out in Hitler's defense that American Jews were persecuting him by boycotting German goods. Atzmon also adds, of the Shoah: I think that 65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we must be entitled to start to ask the necessary questions. We should ask for some conclusive historical evidence and arguments rather than follow a religious narrative that is sustained by political pressure and laws. 

I won't even get into what he says about Israel, a nation that had the misfortune to count Gilad Atzmon as a citizen until he renounced his connections to Israel, Judaism, and sanity. (He now lives in Britain, which deserves better.) So you get the idea: proudly self-loathing, comfortable with the tropes of Holocaust denial, and reviving the ugliest smears of classical anti-Semitism. 

This charming fellow is much beloved by people who hate Israel, and are pleased by the vicious image that Atzmon creates of Jews and Israelis. Which is why he is repeatedly invited to star at various 'fundraisers' for various anti-Israel activities. Most recently, this led to his being invited to Oakland, CA, on the evening of Saturday, February 25, for an evening of music and anti-Semitism, to raise funds for the Global March to Jerusalem. For reasons that will follow shortly, I do not believe that they can have possibly raised enough money to cover the cost of flying Mr. Atzmon out from England. In fact, one of the most consistent things about Atzmon's fundraising endeavors is that they never seem to raise much in the way of funds. But that is a consideration for another day.

Of course, if we was gonna be there, we were gonna be there. The Zionists and proud Jews of the Bay Area revved up. We took old signs out of storage, and painted new ones. There was no way Atzmon was going to speak anywhere in the Bay Area without us standing by and telling the world the truth about his vile shtick. We were a little nervous, after the peaceful organizers of this event contacted anarchists at Occupy Oakland for 'security', soliciting the response "Who do you want us to beat up?" But we went anyway. We were determined to speak truth to...whatever it is Gilad Atzmon is.

Things got complicated after that, though, because rather than face being called out for being a purveyor of hate speech, racism, and vile lies, Gilad Atzmon went on the run.

We arrived at the designated location, only to find that the only people stirring around the building were young and fashionable--not exactly the typical Atzmon fans. Several of the girls were wearing wigs teased into big Afros. It was, as we later learned, the Seventh Annual Say it Loud 70's Fashion Show.

We admired the young people's retro ensembles. But where was Atzmon? We found this notice taped to the inside of a nearby door.

As you'll note, they didn't leave an address or phone number, which is customary when a piece of theater has a change of venue, but then again, the point of the change of venue may simply have been to shake off pursuit. While a forlorn pair of Atzmon fans called several numbers, trying to find out where the event had gotten to, the Zionists surveyed the scene, and shrugged. The field was ours, and we were on the point of declaring victory and going out to dinner. We even took a few photographs.

Fortunately or unfortunately, we then found out where Atzmon was hiding. (It was cold and bleak and dark, and I was actually looking forward to dinner.) However, one of the organizers showed up to discreetly hand out flyers with the new address, and armed with one of these, we leaped back in our assorted conveyances and headed out to find Atzmon's new hide-out.

The new location was on a residential street, and as we rolled down it looking for street numbers, we came to the conclusion that the new location was probably someone's living room. But we were wrong. Oh, how wrong we were.

Atzmon's new venue turned out to be the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California, and I confess that when I saw the sign, I actually shrieked a little, and our driver was so discombobulated that she accidentally parked in the cultural center's parking lot. This later turned out to be something of a problem, but we were, to put it mildly, startled.

I do not know how Gilad Atzmon managed to find shelter from the storm at the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California, seeing as he is neither a Muslim, nor particularly cultured, aside from his saxophone playing, which is apparently pretty decent. I can only assume that he was seriously mischaracterized to the poor soul in charge of scheduling, who therefore made the disturbing mistake of letting a man who thinks burning a synagogue is a 'rational act' into a building which serves as a mosque.

We all spilled out of our cars, and lined up along the fence in front of the ICC parking lot. We had signs, and a banner, and a flag, and we all made ourselves fairly comfortable. (It was cold, it was dark, and we were protesting a nasty bigot in front of a local Cultural Center, but other than that, we were comfortable.)

After that, things went fairly smoothly. An event organizer hovered outside, glaring at us, and denouncing our flyer as a pack of lies. A few young men, wearing sunglasses in the middle of the night, were produced from somewhere, and stood around, nominally protecting the entrance to the ICC. I believe they were intended to look menacing, but they seemed more intrigued by us than anything else.

Meanwhile, no actual ticket-holders seemed to be showing up. We gathered, from hurried conversations between the organizers, that things were being delayed, while everyone was apprised of the new location. That was OK. We waited. Meanwhile, people kept exiting the ICC, many of them with young children, apparently leaving some other event inside. I felt rather awkward as they walked past me. It seemed like mere politeness to scream a warning. "Your cultural center has Gilad Atzmon in it!" I mean, I would want to know. But I wasn't sure of the etiquette for this situation. I settled for smiling politely.

The organizer-in-chief threatened to call the police, so we tried to be helpful and called them ourselves. They showed up several minutes later, and chatted with our representative and that of the Atzmon fans, familiarizing themselves with the situation.

They also turned out to be useful because, as I may have mentioned, we had parked in the ICC's parking lot, and getting out was now starting to seem somewhat perilous. I'm trying to make this whole outing as lighthearted as possible, but the truth of the matter is that any fan of Gilad Atzmon's is pretty much automatically a pretty special kind of hater, and these people scare the heck out of me. Luckily, one of the police officers, apprised of the situation, agreed to escort our car and driver out of the parking lot.

After that, we stood around and held our signs and got very cold, while the Atzmon people engaged in their favorite pastime, filming Zionists. One of them attached to one of our activists and kept him talking for the entire hour and a half we were there, filming the whole thing. A young woman smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and wearing an "I Heart Gaza" t-shirt filmed the rest of us.

Oh, yes, the actual event? Well, fewer than twenty-five people attended in the end. A trickling handful arrived and were ushered into the parking lot as we stood there. There may have been more activists outside than suckers inside.

We were freezing outside, and in the dubious company of Gilad Atzmon's fans. We were still doing better than those inside, who were listening to Gilad Atzmon. Transcript of the hideous speech that transpired inside coming up in the next post.

Monday, February 27, 2012

'Murdering Assad more important than killing an Israeli'

Well, this is different.

Saudi cleric who once offered cash prize to whomever kidnaps Israeli soldier comes out against Syrian president

Saudi cleric Dr. Awad al-Qarni is claiming that killing Syrian President Bashar Assad would be a more noble deed than killing an Israeli person.

Saudi newspaper Sabah quoted al-Qarni as saying that Assad deserves to die for heresy, referring to him as "Basharon," in a jab alluding to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The Muslim cleric claimed that the Golan Heights will not be freed until Assad's "treacherous" regime falls.

I guess it's important to keep your priorities straight.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Coates, Goldberg, and a Question of Approach

Another day, another comment thread online, and the Makabit is slinging comments with another 'critic of Israeli policies'. This isn't a good one; it's like playing ping-pong with a robot. His moves are predictable, his shell impenetrable, and we can do this for as long as I'm willing to send the ball back across the table. As the conversation deteriorates, it gets even more routine.

We've identified one another's agendas, and are no longer even pretending to talk. "Israel seized a country," he says. That's not true, by any possible definition, I tell him. He doesn't bother to bring the facts he's been demanding from everyone else, defaulting to telling me that I 'know' I'm not right about that. Finally, he informs me that if I want people to think I'm a peacenik (a goal and title I hadn't actually laid claim to), I should change my name. "Makabit" apparently, is too warlike...darn those indigenous freedom fighters!

I sign off, bored and frustrated, and vowing, probably in vain, not to engage in this sort of futile fight again. And I start thinking:

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a reputation for having an excellent and active group of commenters at his Atlantic blog. I read there often, and occasionally comment, and I find it to be an extremely pleasant experience. The commentariat is bright, literate, and interested in the issues Coates addresses. Conversely Jeffrey Goldberg only recently opened comments on his blog at the Atlantic, and the results have been mixed.

Goldberg is currently carrying on a running feudette with Glenn Greenwald over Greenwald's use and defense of the anti-Semitic slur "Israel-Firsters", but I think that any widely read blogger with a positive attitude toward Israel would have drawn a similar crowd. The words 'anti-Israel' are enough to bring them popping out of the woodwork. "Define anti-Israel!" they scream. "Was is racist when South Africa was boycotted? Define anti-Semitic! Give us links!"

Under these circumstances, any conversation deteriorates back to the ping-pong game. You have to start from basic principles every time, going over the essential history of the region, fighting over framing. Then the rest of the bag of tricks. It is combative, and mind-numbingly repetitive. Trying to have an intelligent conversation about Israel, anti-Semitism, or pretty much anything else under these circumstances is like trying to play chess under artillery fire.

How does Coates do it? I started to wonder. After all, he frequently writes about race in the United States, not exactly a non-controversial subject on the Internet, and one with its own endless framing arguments. How has he created a place where people have intelligent discussions about the things he posts, without endlessly setting the discussion back to, "Wah, wah, you say everything's racist! Define racism succinctly! I want links!"?

Well, Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn't allow people to show up and pee on the floor, and he bans people when they do that. I've watched him do it. He's not liked by some for it. They complain bitterly, elsewhere. If you show up referencing racist authors, or pouting that you could say that affirmative action is black supremacism, and why doesn't anyone want to discuss that, or wanting to go over the complicity of Africans in the slave trade, Coates will show you the door. Then you can go and talk about what a coward he is on your own blog, and the rest of us can actually talk about whatever the subject du jour is.

Most pro-Israel blogs with discussion-prone comments sections don't do this, and many blogs (by no means most, or all, I have no statistics) dealing with racial issues or gender issues do.

I suspect we don't do it because we think that banning commenters who are being asses is censorship. We don't want to provide ammunition to people who already like to claim they're being silenced all the time. I think we've also developed within the BlogoZion a belief that action online means addressing these people, all the time, and debating them wherever they show up.

It's kind of pointless, though, and I think it hinders our ability to talk about more nuanced issues. What would happen if, instead of indulging the "Define anti-Israel!" crowd, Goldberg simply blocked them and left them to go elsewhere? Would we be able to talk about a wider range of subjects? Would people feel freer to explore nuance, without the artillery fire coming in from everywhere?

Beyond the practical, I think that setting standards for discussion about Israel and enforcing them is a healthy move toward reframing. It says: Israel exists, and has a right to. We won't discuss this any longer, and we won't allow the conversation to be derailed with false history or attempts to put words in our mouths. We won't waste our time endlessly playing games with people whose clear agenda is to harm Israel, any more than we waste our time playing games with people who want everyone to agree that racism is over, and women have too much power in modern society.

What would it mean to actually log out of conversation with the armchair anti-Israel crowd? What could we do with that time? That emotional and spiritual energy?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Meet Sherian Kihia

In the last several years, there have been more and more Israeli Arabs and other Israeli minority groups, especially women, moving into areas of Israeli society where they haven't previously worked. I like highlighting these, and other Israeli pioneers, here. They offer a slice of life in Israel, good and bad, that you really can't understand from anything but an individual's experience.

Today's profile is of Sherian Kihia, a young Muslim woman from East Jerusalem, who is Magen David Adom's first Muslim ambulance driver. (Note: a commenter on this piece says that they work for MDA, and that there are other Muslim drivers. S/he thinks the article may mean to say the first Muslim woman driver.)

For years, 24-year-old Sherian Kihia of east Jerusalem dreamed of volunteering with the Magen David Adom emergency organization. In order to realize her ambition she had to overcome internal and external criticism about working alongside men and until the small hours of the night. 

For a moment she even feared she won't be able to find a match. But all this did not stop her from fulfilling her life's dream.

Now, after being admitted by MDA and making history as the organization's first Arab volunteer, she says with complete confidence: "I engage in saving lives and don’t get into questions of religion or nationality. I'm actually receiving a lot of support within my sector."

Her husband is supportive: "One of the problems was the fact that I get home late, which is unacceptable in my sector," she shares, "but my family supported me and so did my husband. He said, 'Do what you want. You have my support.'

"The truth is that I didn't even think about what people would say. Even before I met him I said I wouldn't want to marry a man who would be annoyed by the fact that I return home late or drive an ambulance."

It's hoped she will be a role model: Murad Salman, director of the east Jerusalem team, concludes: "We hope that Kihia's decision to join us will raise awareness for volunteer work among other young people from the Arab sector."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The First Druze "Lone Soldier" Reaches Israel

It doesn't hurt that he's hot...
This is Pvt. Fadi Abad Ahallik. He's a Brazilian Druze, who recently made aliyah to serve in the IDF as his father and grandfather did, making him the first Druze 'lone soldier'.

Over at the IDFblog, there's a profile up: 

Fadi was born in Hurfeish, Israel, but during fifth grade, he and his family moved to Brazil. Being raised in Brazil, he was not obligated to serve. However, just a few months shy of his 18th birthday–the IDF conscription age–Fadi decided to follow in his father and grandfather’s footsteps by making Aliyah to Israel and volunteering to serve. “I didn’t want to be different, and I wanted to do my part for the country,” he explains.

Fadi’s grandfather, Col. (res.) Sayid Abad Allhallik, is a reservist in the IDF and takes care of Fadi in his parents’ absence. He was the first commander of the all-Druze Herev Battalion, the same battalion Fadi joined, and was the first person from a Druze family to achieve such a position. Sayid had an illustrious military career and he even met the former chief of staff, Ehud Barak. Upon his grandson’s arrival, Sayid contacted Fadi’s future battalion commanders to inform them and assigned Fadi a personal translator to help with the Hebrew.

Fadi is progressing rapidly in Hebrew, as well as in his weapons training. “At first, the weapon seemed dangerous to me, but after you learn to use it you realize that’s not the case,” he says. Fadi also met a fellow Brazilian during his training: “Speaking Portuguese in the middle of the desert was a very special experience for me.”

When he reached his base, Fadi received an international phone card in order to keep in touch with loved ones in Brazil. He also keeps in touch with friends through social media sites. To the girl he dated before he left, he promised: “I’ll visit again in a year, since I deserve a flight home, just like any other lone soldier.”

This young man inherits a great legacy of Druze in the IDF. Kol ha'kavod, Fadi.