Thursday, December 28, 2006

My Friend at TPSM Blogs Against Zombies

Go check it out. It's funny, it's a reminder to keep memory alive and the dead presidents in their graves. Go check it out at:
The Pagan Science Monitor where truth never sleeps.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Let's All Face it: The War on Christmas makes the Holidays More Fun.

Back before the ideologues of the far-right started the hype about the "War on Christmas," there was so little to laugh about during the holiday season. The holidays were a time of panic about the expense of holiday shopping, hordes of sidewalk clogging tourists, and weight gain brought on by the cookie-baking mania and excessive partying. It was easy to feel resentful as a fully secular communist Jewish type when I was struggling through the crowds at Macy's to buy holiday gifts for my secular pinko-communist Jewish friends and family, or tripping through the pine-scented streets on my way home from work.
But the very propaganda of the "War on Christmas" has given me something to be part of during the holiday season. Instead of feeling excluded, I now belong! I belong to an army of disgruntled secularizers. It's kinda fun. In fact, the "war on Christmas" and the Christian right's excesses have brought all the cranky Jews and Pagans out of the closet to celebrate the holiday in all its non-Christian glory. I used to, in respect for other people's' religious beliefs, say "Merry Christmas" quite jovially to people far and wide. Not now. Commercial culture is even catching on and giving up the holly and sleighbells. In a hip, commercial decorating magazine, I read about how I might craft my very own Festivus party.
Everywhere you look, there are people cracking jokes about this ludicrous claim that began with a bunch of Fox news hacks and wacko evangelicals. Check out the Cafe Press items on sale. Look at the battlefield photos at Flickr, and Stephen Colbert has a whole season's worth of material.

However, the fact of its absurdity doesn't make the "War on Christmas" rhetoric a mere comedy vehicle. The war-on-Christmas story is a case of first time as farce, second time as tragedy. There's something truly pathetic about the fact that some people actually believe that such a war exists, and are willing to spend their money to fund the Christian soldiers of the solstice season. Last night on the train, I chatted briefly with a trainer from my gym, and before heading back to my earphones the 12/16/06 podcast of my favorite radio show, which right then, was doing an interview with the Reverend Barry Lynn of "Americans United for the Separation of Church and State" about his new book and what the Bible actually say, I said to this dark haired, small sized New Yorker, "Happy Holidays!" After all - he might be celebrating Channukka, and I was feeling friendly. "Merry CHRISTMAS!" he responded with vehemence and a fierce teeth-bearing grin.
Since when has saying "Merry Christmas" been a way to release your aggression at unsuspecting Jews? I thought that was an EASTER tradition, for Chrissake!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Propaganda Machines Part Two

As promised, here's my second round of responses to right-wing Zionist talking points. One of these general points, applied in many situations is this one: The Arab nations want to "sweep Israel into the sea" and won't stop until they do. Thus, Israel must defend itself all the time.

3.According to Zionist history, in 1948, Israel had to defend itself against annihilation by the united force of all the Arab countries - whose primary motivation was anti-semitism. The Arab nations told the Palestinians to flee.
It is true that Israel was "born in the midst of a war with the Arabs of Palestine and the neighboring Arab states." (Shlaim, 28), but it is not clear that the motivation for this war was the hatred of Jews, nor is there any evidence to suggest that the Arab leadership issued orders to Palestinian Arabs to flee. From 1946-1947, David Ben Gurion united Zionist forces in Palestine into an army to pursue the formation of an Israeli state. In 1947, only one Arab leader supported such a Zionist state in Palestine, King Abdullah of Transjordan. The not-nearly as well organized Palestinian nationalists, a total of 4000 fighters united under the leader, al-Husayni, attacked Jewish targets in Palestine immediately following the UN decision to partition Palestine in the fall of 1947.(Pape, 65,77).
The response was as follows:
Ben Gurion's army pursued the objective of "Plan D" which was to attack Arab villages in Palestine (civilians) and thus remove Palestinians from Israel, beginning in April, 1948. In all, 350 villages were evacuated or abandoned, and 700,00 to 750,000 Palestinian refugees fled to the West Bank, to Gaza, and to Transjordan, Syria, and Lebanon. The very worst atrocities of the war (massacres of villagers) occurred in October and November of 1948. The goal was not simply to create a new state, but a state that was ethnically pure, or at least dominated by a Jewish population. Who then, are the people with a strong case of ethnic nationalism or "tribalism"?
Another part of the Zionist version of this history regards the combined invasion of Palestine by Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, which is usually portrayed by Zionists as a group that numerically overwhelmed Israel. In fact, as Avi Shlaim points out, the Israeli forces outnumbered the combined Arab military force; Arab troops numbered 25,000, Israel troops went from 65,000 to 97,441. Moreover, the war aim of the Arab nations was not the single goal of "sweeping Israel into the sea" but a complicated mix of individual national objectives.
(on 1948, see Pape, Shlaim, and Morris).

4. Modern American zionism came to its full fruition following the 1967 war, when Israel expanded its territory significantly. This war has been portrayed in Zionist history as a heroic victory over hostile forces, and a necessity for Israel to defend itself from the hostile Arab world.
In 1967, Israel faced Palestinian attacks that were supported by the Syrian government. In response, Israel's Yitzhak Rabin threatened to "overthrow the Syrian regime" (Shlaim, 236). As Egypt, under Nasser, closed off the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, massed troops on the Sinai border, and asked for the UN emergency forces to be removed from the Sinai, Israel responded with an attack now known as the "six day war" during which Israel was victorious and took the following territories: the Sinai peninsula, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. This expansion of Israel's borders and its attempts to keep these territories remains the bone of contention today, and the proposal of many peace groups (including Jewish ones) is that Israel withdraw to its pre-1967 borders. In my next post, I will go into more detail on the history of the fate of territories occupied in 1967. In general, one could say that this occupation, and effort to make it permanent, and not anti-semitism, is the real source of continuing hostility to the state of Israel.

5. Another common event used to support the hypothesis of unrelenting Arab hostility is the "Yom Kippur War" of 1973
The surprise attack on Israel by Syria and Egypt in 1973 was a response to the continued Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. In fact, it was Moshe Dayan who told Time magazine in July of 1973, "There is no more Palestine. Finished" and his policy was to move settlers into the occupied territories "won" in 1967, including the Golan Heights, which were once part of Syria, and sought an Israel whose authority extended "from the Jordan to the Suez canal." The reason that Egypt and Syria attacked Israel in October of 1973 (The surprise "Yom Kippur war") was to put pressure on Israel to withdraw from the Occupied territories.

* For all of the above references, see Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World.

and that's it for now.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Propaganda Machines

Once a week, my colleagues and I go out for happy hour, which is a testament to our general collegiality. Last week's happy hour, however, was marred slightly by the eruption of the Israel/Palestine question into our otherwise comradely chatter. I mentioned something about the occupation and my colleague, from across the table said," Occupation?!" as is if I had just asserted the reality of something that was in doubt. I'm not sure whether it's the insistance that I treat total propaganda as an "alternative view" or distortions and lies as "facts" or whether it's the pure racism involved in saying things like "Palestinians?" and "Occupation?" as if these were facts in question, but I was shocked and dismayed. The same colleague asked me yesterday if I knew about the group "CAMERA" which he described as a general mid-east media watch group with no political affiliation, out to give the "truth" on American news reporting from the Middle-East. "No," I said, "is it associated with AIPAC?"
"Oh, no" he responded.
The gist of his conversation was that he wanted to have a civil dialogue with me about the issues and offered to exchange information resources. This is the man who refused to read Tom Segev, on the basis that he was a "revisionist!" in the previous conversation. Finally, I had to tell him that I just didn't see the arguments he was making as an even a bit legitimate and that I couldn't have such a conversation with him on that basis at all. I said, "If you had a friend who loved Rush Limbaugh and insisted that he was telling the truth, and kept coming to you with things Rush had said, and asking you to take them seriously, wouldn't it drive you crazy?"
I could see that this hurt his feelings, and I felt bad about it, but on the other hand, he's coming to me with offensive, racist propaganda and asking me to accept it as a rational argument. If we were acquaintances in Mississippi in the 1960s, and he was talking about how inaccurate the Northern media was to depict Mississippi as a racist backwater, I'd have had to say the same thing.
Most of the time, I live in a bit of an alternative news "bubble" and unless I encounter students with very conservative views (this almost never happens where I teach) I don't often encounter right wing views, some of which seem like they are coming from another planet. In case you have the same's my report from the land of ultra-Zionist propaganda...part one.

The Right Wing Spin Machine on Israel/Palestine

1. "There are no Palestinians." This is the first departure point, and it's the one that Golda Meier made in her infamous statement, "There is no such thing as a Palestinian." Here is a web-site that promotes this point of view and a column from Ha'aretz that argues against it on this simple basis: no one gets to decide whether someone else's identity is valid or not.
* This justification for seizing other people's land is as specious as the justification used by the Puritans who came over to North America and seized Native American land on the basis that they a) didn't have the same concept of private property and farming as the Europeans and therefore couldn't make a legitimate ownership claim and b) weren't a nation in the European sense of the term.
I don't know what else to call it but racism when the basis for denying the existance of a people and their rights to stay where they are is that they are different from and therefore inferior to you. It doesn't matter whether the Palestinians have always called themselves Palestinians or not. The fact is, Israel was built on land that was inhabited by people, and the leaders of Israel expelled those people from their homes (about which, more later).
But let's see....what IS the basis of the Palestinian national identity?...It began in the 19th century, and you can find out more about it in the most serious scholarly history of it by Rashid Khalidi. For those who would claim that the Palestinians are not a "real" nation, it might be useful to think about the history of nationalism more generally. The "French" and "German" identities were also "made up" for political reasons. European historians generally agree with Benedict Anderson's description of the nation as an "imagined community" , not a biological reality.

2. The American media is biased against Israel and the Palestinians are manipulating the world media to hate Israel.
Yes, you heard it right. My colleague insisted that the liberal media couldn't be trusted in its reports from Israel. He went on to talk about CAMERA, which is not a neutral organization, which is affiliated with AIPAC, and which spends its time denying the murders of Palestinian children by the Israeli Defense forces. It does focusing on such cases as the image of Mohammed Al Duraduring the Al Aqsa intifada. In that case, the media first decided the photo was accurate, then later decided it was not. And with this one image, groups like CAMERA convince otherwise rational people that the entire record of crimes by the IDF is an elaborate Palestinian hoax. However, if you knew the big picture, you'd know this:

According to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Israeli security forces killed 2,038 Palestinians between 29 September 2000 and 11 May 2003. Of these, 366 (18%) were minors under the age of 18. Indeed, by the end of the second day of the al-Aqsa Intifada, the day on which Mohammed al-Dura died, 15 Palestinians had already been killed. Of these, four (27%) were minors. Besides Mohammad al-Dura, whose death was so graphically captured on video, B’Tselem reports these otherwise-invisible child casualties:

· Khaled 'Adli al-Baziyan, age 15, from Nablus, killed by Israeli security forces live gunfire to the head in Nablus/The West Bank

· Nizar Mahmud 'Abd al-'Ayedeh, age 16, from Deir 'Ammar/Ramallah, killed by Israeli security forces gunfire to the chest in Ramallah/The West Bank

· 'Iyyad Ahmad al-Khashashi, age 16, from Nablus, killed by Israeli security forces live gunfire in Nablus/The West Bank

The day after Mohammad al-Dura died, four more minors—including another 12-year-old, Samer Samir Sudki Tabanjeh—were killed by Israeli security forces.

(By comparison, B’Tselem reports that between 29 September 2000 and 11 May 2003 Palestinians killed 483 Israeli civilians and 216 Israeli security personnel, or 699 total. Of these, 92 or 13% were minors. By the end of the second day of the intifada one Israeli soldier but no Israeli civilians, and therefore no Israeli minors, had been killed. Further information is available at

That's all I can manage for now, I'll do some more responses to ultra-right Zionist talking points later in the week.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

All New Game in Town

So, the president has said he rejects the "Iraq study group solution." Condoleeza Rice says she doesn't want to make nice with Syria and Iran. According to the NY Daily News, "The White House is totally constipated," a former aide complained. "There's not enough adult leadership, and the 30-year-olds still think it's 2000 and they're riding high." SO. What IS Bush/Cheney's "secret plan" to win the war? I welcome serious attempts and satire:

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

More Global Warming News

I was just checking my email for the hundreth time today, wondering what I was looking for. It must have been this link to a story from Reuters at "Truth Out" which announces that the Alps are currently undergoing the warmest winter in 1300 years.

It's not reassuring then that the proposed budget (which I have hanging on my office wall) for 2007 included cuts in environmental and energy programs. Since the last congress could not come to agreement on the 2007 budget I hope this means that the new one will be able to monkey around with it a little.

This winter should fuel (sorry, I couldn't resist) the movement to take action to slow down global warming, but the media's portrayal of the issue is making it sound as if any effort to control carbon emissions is some kind of inexcusable government interference in our "way of life." Meanwhile, the same crowd finds the Patriot Act and the rest just fine. anxiety is bubbling. For an interesting piece on the latest see Think Progress.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Freaky Friday

Last night, I was walking through the West Village with my Aunt, dodging the partying NYU students who appeared to be on a premature Spring break. As we shuffled along with jackets in hand, I wondered whether this was really the end of winter as we know it. For this reason, I was glad to see this article in New York magazine that attempts to explain the weird weather.
The current warm spell that we're experiencing can be attributed to El Nino, but the larger context for that and other changes is global warming. According to the article,
The computer models reviewed in the “Metropolitan East Coast Climate Assessment”—a 50-year prediction of New York’s changing climate, developed by nasa and Columbia University—suggest that the city will continue to heat up by as much as one degree by 2010, two degrees by 2020, and accelerate on a gentle curve until we reach as much as nine degrees warmer than now in 2100.

I remember back in the warm winter of '97 that people said "it's El Nino, not global warming," but climatologists argue that it's not an "either/or" explanation. We'll continue to have more el ninos because of global warming.
Has anyone else noticed how people keep saying hopefully, "it's really going to cool down this weekend!" and then if you look at the forecasts, it says it will be in the high forties? Sheesh, it's December and I still have time to plant hollyhocks for next year. I was already delaying Fall bulb planting by a month to fit the real temperatures, and it looks like I'm not alone.