What Am I Reading?

Over at Ynet, Linda Gradstein writes that as the BDS movement is seemingly reaching a new threshold, Israel is considering hiring a PR firm to improve its tarnished image.

My take: I am reminded of a story about a police officer who sees a man down on all four looking for something on the street. When the officer asks the man if he lost something, the man replies, “Yes, my keys.” “You lost them here?” asks the officer. “No,” replies the man, with slurred speech, “I lost them in the alley, but the light is much better here.”

If we really want to take the problem of delegitimization seriously, we need to do more than just change the way we talk about Israel – more than Extreme Makeover Zionist Edition-. We need to venture into the dark alley where we originally lost our way. Otherwise, we are no different, and will have no better luck, than the drunken man in the story.

According to organizational psychologists, when there is a significant gap between what people expect and what they actually get, two types of learning can take place: single-loop and double-loop learning. Single-loop learning refers to efforts to reduce this gap by modifying the strategy originally employed – improving Hasbarah skills, for example. Double-loop learning, on the other hand, requires us to question the assumption, values and actions that brought us to this problem in the first place.

There are no shortcuts here. Double-loop learning means we need to radically transform our relationship with the Palestinians. This is not to say Israel deserves to be delegitimized, but when it chooses an overall course of action – yes, the occupation, blockade and settlements are choices – it significantly contributes to the problem.

What Am I Reading?

In this Sunday’s addition of the NYT Omar Barghouti argues that the burgeoning success of the BDS movement has exposed Israel for the racist, oppressive and irrational state that it is.

My take: While making a number of important points the article suffers from some serious shortcomings. The author makes light of the idea that the BDS movement presents a threat to the state of Israel. He does this by ignoring the fact that one of the central demands of the movement – a return of Palestinian refugees – would render the Jewish state unrecognizable. A radical change that for the majority of Jewish Israelis is very disturbing. It is for this reason that no less a critic of Israel as Norman Finkelstein has called the BDS movement a “cult” that exaggerates its success and deceptively seeks the “destruction of Israel”. 

But this oversight is symptomatic of a much larger problem. To know what scares your enemy – as Mr. Barghouti purports to do – you need empathy. The BDS position, with its human rights and justice discourse, tends to function at an abstract (often imaginary) level of cognition that lacks an ability (or will) to see the perspective, fears and needs of the other side. 

You cannot produce mass change by ignoring the masses you seek to change.

New Section: What Am I Reading?

 
 
An Israeli civic teacher has been accused of (and reprimanded for) making hyper-critical and derogatory remarks against the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). This has unleashed a debate over freedom of speech in the classroom and the state of Israeli democracy. Over at the Times Of Israel, Shimon Ohayon, Member of Knesset for the ultra-nationlist Yisrael Beytenu and professor for Bar-Ilan University, writes that politics has no place in the classroom and that “the teacher who dispenses their ideological or political worldview is failing their students and their chosen profession in a number of areas.” He goes on to explain that the job of the teacher is to:
 
Create intellectual space for the student to choose his or her own path, and arrive at their own conclusions on complex and frequently controversial matters such as politics, the relationship between a citizen and the state and the peace process. Their role should not extend beyond providing students the tools to make informed decisions for themselves.
 
My take: The problem with this argument is that the educational system in Israel is conservative and political by nature. This is expressed in the official curriculum of the state which seeks to inculcate the young with “proper” knowledge and skills. As Foucault reminds us: “Any system of education is a political way of maintaining or modifying the appropriation of discourse, along wit the knowledge and power which they carry.” Moreover, in a divided society like Israel there is also an inevitable counter curricula that runs against the messages of the state (as in the present case). This creates a situation in which educators teach the official curriculum from above, but educate the counter curriculum from below (Yael Tamir, forthcoming). For example, Arab-Israeli civic educators teach of Israel as a Jewish state, but educate as a democracy; the orthodox teach Israel as a democracy but educate as a Jewish state. The students have no difficulty figuring out which position the teacher values. But the point is that no matter what, there is no escaping politics in the Israeli classroom.
 
 

 

 

When Identities Matter

Also published in Columbia University’s ICCCR blog.

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A great deal of our most difficult conflicts appear to be identity-based: Israeli vs. Palestinian, Democrat vs. Republican, Christian vs. Muslim, and so on. Identities are pitted against one another in a win-lose fashion. The intransigent nature of so-called identity conflict has understandably lead some to conclude that we must transcend our concerns over identity in order to resolve the deep conflicts that plague our societies. Yet research on identity and conflict resolution suggests that it’s premature to toss the baby out with the dirty bathwater. Continue reading

Nominate Orphaned Land to 2013 Nobel Peace Prize

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Here is my petition to nominate the Israeli metal band Orphaned Land to the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize. Orphaned Land has managed to create a reality of coexistence in the region that has escaped politicians and peacemakers alike. This petition is just step one in the process of nominating this band. It’s goal is to generate support and buzz. If you haven’t already signed it, please do and share with your online community. Let’s make history.     

Israel, Iran and the Cuban Missile Crises.

Over at Al Jazeera, Trita Parsi and I explore both the limitations and potential of using the Cuban Missile Crises as an analogy to the current situation between Israel and Iran.

“Watching the conflict between Iran and Israel escalate, it’s hard not to draw analogies and lessons from history. Indeed, Netanyahu’s thinking in this regard is very much anchored in the past: “The year is 1938 and Iran is Germany”, time and again he has warned. Such analogs provide leaders with a quick and handy “user manual”: a way to sell a desired policy path and provide a platform for action.

Yet as mental shortcuts, analogs could easily lead to unwanted outcomes. Crucial decisions, like going to war, could be based on paying attention to the wrong lessons, or making a false comparison between two different situations. Indeed, it is neither 1938 (Iran is far from having a bomb or a delivery system) nor is Iran Nazi Germany (Iran’s military budget is fraction of that of Israel and the US). Claiming so, however, leaves no room for any response save military force.

Recently, another historical episode, the Cuban Missile Crisis, has been gaining traction. Just as the US, the analogy goes, faced the intolerable choice of either attacking Cuba or allowing Soviet nuclear weapons in its own backyard, so too Israel/US must decide between attacking Iran or allowing it to become nuclear.”

To read the rest, click here.

An Illness Within.

My latest in Haaretz. A look at the importance of language and metaphors in the recent anti-immigrant rhetoric in Israel. Sometimes (if I may paraphrase Nietzsche), one needs to opine with a hammer.

On the day that the first, and highly publicized “repatriation” of South Sudanese migrants begins, we need to look again at the rhetoric employed by Israeli politicians and broadcasters towards those seeking refuge and a better life in Israel.

The incitements that lead to the anti-immigrant riot of March 23 by Israeli politicians Miri Regev, Danny Danon, and Michael Ben-Ari have rightly shocked people of good conscience. Many have asked how, after all, can politicians representing the state of Israel call people living in its midst a “cancer in our body” and a “national plague”? However, a poll taken shortly after the incident (by the Israel Democracy Institute) has shown that 53 percent of Israelis identify with those statements and 33 percent of Jews (along with 23 percent of Arabs) supported the acts of violence against African immigrants.

More recently, media personality and Army Radio talk-show host Avri Gilad said the migrants who enter Israel are a threat by virtue of being Muslims; which according to him is “the most terrible disease raging around the world.” He further explained that even though many of them are moderate, they carry a “virus” that can “explode” at any moment.

To understand the seriousness of Regev, Danon and Gilad’s statements we only have to mine history for the way in which Jews and others have been on the wrong end of similar pronouncements. Almost every genocide in recorded history has been preceded by the instrumental use of language to dehumanize and demonize a particular population – not least the Holocaust, but also Rwanda and Cambodia at the time of the Khmer Rouge. In other words, language – particularly the use of metaphors – matters. Continue reading