Monday, May 28, 2012

A Play Attendee Reports From London

Sarah AB at Harry's Place was able to see the performance. Sounds like an excellent performance, although I really hate Merchant.

Loved this part: Generally people heeded the opening plea to keep calm and not respond to disruption. But at one point, when an audience member started to recite a Palestinian themed parody of Shylock’s famous ‘Hath not a Jew eyes’ speech, an exasperated ‘piss off’ met with warm applause.

BDS Activists Lose, Act Out In London

I've been trying to recast Shylock's "Hath Not A Jew Eyes" speech to be spoken by a BDS activist, but I don't have the talent, or the heart to do that to Shakespeare. I'll settle for just popping in to mention that, amazingly, the London BDS crowd didn't take being told by the Globe Theatre to shove off lying down. Nope, they showed up with signs, flags, and band-aids over their mouths.

One man was arrested for assaulting a security guard outside.

Please note the message of the Band-Aids: "Allowing Israelis to perform in the same festival with Palestinians means that I am being silenced. Me, me, it's all about me!!!"

Cultural Boycott Fails, Israeli Shakespeare Performance Sold Out

I almost want to scold Habimah, Israel's national theater group, for choosing The Merchant of Venice to stage at the Globe Theate as part of an international Shakespeare festival. Merchant? Really? It's an edgy choice, but edgy in a sort of dated way. I would, honestly, rather have seen an Israeli-nuanced King Lear, or The Winter's Tale. But I'm not in London anyway, and nobody asked me.

However, any criticism of Habimah's choice has to be overshadowed by the cheerfulness with which I report that, yet again, the forces of BDS have produced great Sturm und Drang, and two sold-out performances for Habimah in London.

In the end, it all came down to a protest outside, a counterprotest, a lot of police checking bags, and then,

In sooth, I know not why I am so sad:
It wearies me; you say it wearies you;
But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
What stuff 'tis made of, whereof it is born,
I am to learn;
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,
That I have much ado to know myself.

Israel wins, Shakespeare wins, London, strutting her cultural stuff for the Olympics, wins, and the Palestinian company who performed Richard II wins. BDS loses.

In nosing around for information on the event, I happened to run across this piece by Harry Glass at Worker's Liberty. They're a Trotskyite group, which raises my hackles to begin with, and I am not thrilled by Glass's light use of the term 'atrocity' toward the end of this piece. (So basically, this is a reading suggestion, not an endorsement) It is a well-written, well-reasoned, far-left critique of BDS, thorough and coming from a clear worldview that extends beyond the irrational self-congratulation of BDS supporters. I found myself impressed.

Glass writes: BDS needs to be fought politically, because it stands in the path of two states, the only consistently democratic solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. But BDS is ultimately a pessimistic approach. It put the agency for change outside of the region.

Read it in full.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Arabic Translation of the Talmud Now Out--The ADL Reports

Translating the Talmud into a new language is no light matter. It's a long shelf full of books, made up not of a single text, but of interlocking commentaries, and written in a terse, legal Aramaic in which lengthy arguments are reduced to a sort of telegraphic shorthand, and then unfolded by generations of scholars to lengthy arguments once more. This is not the latest Harry Potter book, or a set of directions for an IKEA desk, this is a challenge for a translator on a par with Finnegans Wake, but more of it. Much more.

So the news that the entire Bavli has been translated and published in Arabic was fairly big news in the scholarly world. It does raise some questions though. Who actually needs a Talmud in Arabic? English, sure, I myself have learned a little using Adin Steinsaltz's spectacular life's work of a translation. Hebrew translations are available, and French, Russian, and Spanish. But more than sixty years after the founding of the State of Israel triggered the expulsion of the ancient Jewish communities of the Arabic-speaking world, you have to wonder how many potential learners are out there who cannot read Aramaic, Hebrew, English or French, and must have an Arabic translation.

Don't ponder that question for too long. The translation is not for us.

As the ADL reports, the purpose of this translation, made explicit in its introduction, is to present the Talmud as a deeply racist text, which reveals the deep racism of Jews, and has formed the deeply racist State of Israel. Racist all the way down, and therefore completely illegitimate as a nation.

The ADL quotes the introduction: “These texts confirm the racist and hostile perception toward the non-Jews, especially those who threaten the ‘chosen nation’ and stand in the way of its ambitions and hopes. There is no doubt that Israel is the best example of this racist position, both in the level of its daily crimes against the Palestinians and the level of its rejection and contempt for international resolutions and laws. For what applies to other countries in the world does not apply to contemporary Israel, as it is unique...Jews, according to this racist position [of the Talmud], are permitted to do what is not permitted for non-Jews.”

The ADL article concludes: The conclusion of the introduction neatly merges the publishers’ anti-Semitic and anti-Israel proclivities: “The Talmudic heritage has a significant impact on the formulation of Jewish identity based on holy [principles of] racial isolation…It [the Talmud] also established the extreme positions that advocate hatred toward non-Jews, the violation of their rights and looting of their lands and property.” The publisher then refers to the Zionist movement’s alleged “crimes” against the Palestinian people as an example of the Talmud’s validation of racist policies.

So, who commissioned this?

MESC, established in 1991, is a Jordan-based political think tank that focuses on the Middle East and North Africa. The Center has a special unit on Israeli affairs, which monitors Israel, Zionist organizations and Hebrew-language media. MESC is highly critical of Israel, and organized a conference last year on the Palestinian unilateral declaration efforts to which they invited senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders as well as Hamas officials.

Al-Jazeera has specifically promoted this book as a contribution to the “establishment of Arabic language Jewish studies” as well as claiming that the translation “identifies the features of the Jewish character that blend elements of racial superiority with Mosaic teachings.”

Nicholas Donin's legacy lives on. This is an old tactic, relatively newly adapted to a new political goal, the delegitimization of Israel. Anyone who has spent much time dealing with hard-core Israel-haters has probably encountered this already, the desperate attempt to take Jews out of time and space--out of history--and reduce them, against any rational interpretation, to a people driven to conquest and oppression by a scattering of quotations taken out of context from a thirty-seven volume legal code.

It's a sickening tactic, but clearly, seen as effective enough for MESC to invest the time and the money to commision this translation, and that worries me.

Friday, May 18, 2012

This Bird Controls the Media

State Bird of Israel. This is what a Zionist with wings looks like.
This is a hoopoe, called in Hebrew a dukhifat. It is the national bird of the State of Israel. They are insectivores, also sunbathers. According to the good folks at Wikipedia "hoopoes sunbathe by spreading out their wings and tail low against the ground and tilting their head up; they often fold their wings and preen halfway through. The hoopoe also enjoys taking dust and sand baths."

I am, of late, developing an interest in Israeli wildlife, having realized at some point that many of the animals referred to again and again in Torah were things I really didn't know very much about. I am rather embarassed to say that well into my thirties, I believed that a hyrax was a kind of gazelle or something, when it turns out that they are actually "fairly small, thickset, herbivorous mammals in the order Hyracoidea"*. Apparently they are sort of the raccoons of the Middle East, and have been known to raid trash cans. I think they're adorable. They also get Biblical mentions, and not only in terms of being trayf, which they are, but also poetically in the Psalms; The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the hyrax."

But enough about the hyraxes for now. Today we're talking about the hoopoe, which is also not kosher**, and which has also inspired Manchester’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign to be critical of the socialist British daily newspaper the Morning Star.

What the heck could the Palestine Solidarity Campaign have against the humble, bug-eating, dust-bath-taking hoopoe, you ask? And how did the Morning Star get involved in this? Well, I'm glad you asked. The Morning Star has a daily quiz, in which one of the questions recently made reference to the fact that the hoopoe is Israel's national bird. This is a fact suitable for a trivia quiz, right up there with the fact that the national animal of Belize is the Baird's tapir, or that the bangus is the national fish of the Philippines. And yet, there was an element in town that objected.
In a letter to the newspaper, Linda Claire, the chairwoman of Manchester’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign, asked why it had referred to the bird after it has “always been the newspaper you could rely on to support the cause of the Palestinians.”
“Maybe you don’t support the methods chosen by the international solidarity movement of BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel] to assist the Palestinians in their struggle for freedom and justice,” she said, adding that this included any reference to Israel’s wildlife.
No, no, you didn't misread that. She considers BDS to apply to free-range wildlife. Her husband also seems to consider the hoopoe, an indigenous bird that has never been known to harm anyone who wasn't a beetle, to be a wedge fowl.
“Despite its condemnation of zionists [sic] it yet finds space to include an item in its daily quiz about Israel’s national bird. Is the Star not aware there’s a cultural boycott going on?” Claire’s husband, George Abendstern, asked in another letter.
 (George, a tip here...the Israelis did not INVENT the hoopoe. They are not MARKETING it. Its inclusion in the quiz does not indicate any sort of policy statement.) This may just leave you scratching your head in puzzlement, or, if you're a hoopoe, off to take another dust bath and take it easy, but this nutty couple underline something very real about BDS: it's not about policy, it's not about any positive goal, it's about the blind hatred of Israel, and the desire to reject anything connected to Israel--hoopoes included.

 After being criticized for being really weird, the PSC clarified. “It was not the bird we object to but what this bird represents – the racist and apartheid State of Israel.”

It's not racism they want to get rid of, folks, or the imagined's Israel.

*'Thickset?' say the hyraxes. 'Thanks.'

**Just as well for the hoopoe, one might point out.