In Nigeria, the jihadist group Boko Haram is reported to have massacred at least 100 people a few days ago while attacking, taking over and largely burning down a town named Damboa. They gunned people down as they fled their firebombed homes. The official death toll is naturally expected to increase. Of-course, they’ve been massacring many thousands—mainly Christians—for a very long time now. What you might call their “vision of Islam” involves eliminating all Western and non-Islamic influences, so schools and students have all along been favored targets. The world briefly paid closer attention when, in April of this year, instead of simply massacring people they chose to kidnap some: more than 200 schoolgirls. Twitter hashtags were brought to bear against the group by those concerned in the world-at-large, but so far the jihadists have only responded with more massacres, destruction and kidnappings. (Perhaps improved WiFi access in the area would better get the message across?) So, aside from token measures, the world wrings its hands. Continue reading The World Dithers While Israel Fights
Yesterday at the White House there was a press conference by President Obama and Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey. Most of the focus going into it and coming out of it has been on the various Washington scandals currently erupting, but I don’t have anything unique to say about those. I did happen to watch the press conference, however, and it was a question directed to Prime Minister Erdogan, and more importantly his manner of answering, which caught my attention.
The question was from Juliana Goldman of Bloomberg News. After asking President Obama the scandal-questions of the day, she addressed Prime Minister Erdogan: “And also, Mr. Prime Minister, what is the status on efforts to normalize relations with Israel? And do you still plan to go to Gaza in the coming weeks?” (I’m using the AP transcript.)
A question, then, firstly about normalizing relations with Israel, and then about visiting the Gaza Strip. Erdogan’s complete answer was as follows:
In your question about Gaza, according to my plans, most probably I would be visiting Gaza in June. But it will not be a visit only to Gaza; I will also go to the West Bank.
I place a lot of significance on this visit in terms of peace in the Middle East, and this visit in no way means favoring one or the other. I’m hoping that that visit will contribute to unity in Palestine, first of all. This is something that I focus on very much. And I hope that my visit can contribute to that process. Thank you.
What’s interesting about this? First, although the question was about relations with Israel, in his answer he does not even use the word “Israel.” His statement that his visit to Gaza “in no way means favoring one or the other” might easily be taken—and likely was taken by many listening—to mean that he intends no favoritism of the Palestinians over the Israelis, but is that what he’s actually saying? I think not; he preceded that statement by pointing out that he will also visit the West Bank, i.e. not only the Gaza Strip. Gaza is ruled by Hamas; the West Bank is ruled by the Palestinian Authority, dominated by the Fatah party of Mahmoud Abbas. Erdogan hopes to “contribute to unity in Palestine” by visiting both places. He does not intend to show favoritism to Hamas by visiting Gaza only.
By completely ignoring the question about Israel, and not even using the word “Israel,” what importance would it be fair to say that Erdogan actually places on normalizing relations with Israel? Continue reading Dissembling for Dummies: A Lesson from Prime Minister Erdogan
You would think that even a tourist from Bangladesh would understand that it’s against the law to whip out a can of spray-paint and start coloring things in the NYC subway (despite some people’s nostalgia for how things were in the 70s and 80s) but a journalist living in New York named Mona Eltahawy was arrested for doing so, and persecuted the poor arresting officers with strident demands to know what she was being arrested for. Well, “duh,” as they say. Watch below, if you have the gumption. Her attempt to deface an advertisement with which she did not agree was vigorously opposed by a blogger named Pamela Hall.
There’s so much to say on this subject that it’s hard to know where to begin and where to end.
If the goal of the ads was to cause controversy and provoke debate, they have succeeded to the nth degree.
The ads state:
IN ANY WAR
BETWEEN THE CIVILIZED MAN
AND THE SAVAGE
These ads were designed by Pamela Geller, in response to anti-Israel ads that ran in September of 2011 in the MTA system. Due to legal challenges, Geller’s ads did not run until now (as it happens in the wake of the recent anti-YouTube riots throughout the “Muslim world”).
I strongly support the sentiment behind the ads, but I wouldn’t have written them this way. I think that when the word “savage” is invoked, versus the “civilized man,” the first thought by the average liberal New Yorker would be of Native Americans victimized by white Europeans. Their education, from high school, college and popular culture (right up to James Cameron’s “Avatar”), kicks in very strongly at the concept of “savages.” If there are any savages, they must be noble ones. It is the so-called “civilized man” who is to be suspected, if not loathed outright.
So, if you label anyone as a savage, you have awarded them with an advantage, in terms of public relations.
I simply would have worded the ads this way:
IN ANY WAR
In the end, that’s what this is about. Still, Pamela Geller has provoked debate about all of these issues, and perhaps some of those who are asleep will be woken up by the ruckus. That would be a very good thing.
A young Irish filmmaker named Nicky Larkin went to Israel and the West Bank with the intent of making a film exposing Israel’s unjust treatment of the Palestinians, something which was treated as gospel truth by the bulk of his peers in the Emerald Isle. After seven weeks, and thanks to a mind at least open to being open, he went home with a dramatically different perspective. Continue reading Change of heart on Israel: Nicky Larkin
I find this heartening, I must admit: a survey in Israel by the Guttman-Avi Chai foundation says that a record number of Israeli Jews currently believe in God. That number is 80%, and by “record number,” reference is made to other surveys dating back to 1991. Continue reading Israeli Jews and Belief in God
After five years of being kept as a hostage by the Islamic terrorist group Hamas in Gaza, Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has returned to Israel today. In return, Israel is releasing over a thousand prisoners requested by Hamas (nearly five hundred released today) including many who committed murders and were involved in bombings.
It makes no sense, of-course. Aside from the absurd imbalance in swapping all of these convicted terrorists for one Israeli soldier who has not been accused of any crime, there is the obvious point that this only encourages Israel’s enemies to attempt to kidnap soldiers again in the future, knowing the enormous potential reward they can obtain through this tactic. Continue reading Gilad Shalit and the Incongruous Swap
Paul Simon talked to the press yesterday in Tel Aviv, Israel, in advance of a concert tonight in Ramat Gan stadium. There is what appears to be a gently-edited twenty-minute clip available on YouTube (and embedded below the text here). It’s a pretty low-key, friendly chat, but interesting enough if you—like me—admire Simon a lot as a songwriter and musician. Simon talks about himself as a secular Jew and refers to his puzzlement at being sometimes expected to opine on behalf of Jews in general, especially with regard to Israeli/Palestinian issues. (Simon deliberately avoids commenting specifically on any political issues; of-course as soon as his gig in Tel Aviv was announced he would have begun coming under pressure to cancel it from those who advocate “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” against Israel. Clearly he did not cancel it.) Simon talks about the music on his current album and about playing live, and about how he’s taken to preserving the quality of his singing voice through a somewhat ascetic regimen by avoiding smoking, alcohol, coffee and more. (You would have to say that it seems to be working: he turns 70 this year, and still sounds like he did when he was 22.) Continue reading Bob Dylan: the welder of gates – and more from Paul Simon press conference
In fairly typical if frustrating fashion, Bob Dylan seems to have treated his gig today in Israel like any other gig, not playing any special songs (e.g. “Neighborhood Bully”) or making any big pronouncements. (I think Bob believes all his songs are special.) The most amazing thing about the set list is that it is identical to the one from his show in England a couple of days ago. When was the last time Dylan played two consecutive shows with exactly the same set list? For the record this is what he played in Ramat Gan stadium today: Continue reading Bob Dylan in Tel Aviv
Bob Dylan’s concert in Tel Aviv is scheduled for tomorrow night in Ramat Gan stadium. Today the Jerusalem Post has some quotes from two artists who are opening for Dylan: Asaf Avidan and Rickie Lee Jones. Both say nice things about Dylan and their anticipation of the show. (And, contrary to early reports, and just as I thought, Rickie Lee Jones is not scheduled to sing with Dylan and his band; although she indicates she’d be glad to do so if asked.) Continue reading Rickie Lee Jones on Dylan, Israel, and Boycotts