“Inch’Allah,” Anais Barbeau-Lavalette’s feature about Israel-Palestine, may be the strongest effort yet to convey the emotions of the supercharged struggle over land and dignity in the present period. For nearly a half-century, those who wanted justice in Palestine hoped that some representation of their narrative could reach the screen. They lived in the shadow, of course, of the epochal power of “Exodus,” probably the most effective propaganda film in world history. A great many years ago I recall Andrew Sarris telling a Columbia film class that the Palestinians were enthused when Jean-Luc Godard got funding to make a movie about their struggle, but were disappointed by the results. What they had in mind was something like a modern western, with the fedayeen in the role of heroic good guys, a project which was never really in the French auteur’s wheelhouse.
Numerous films have sought to convey something of the moral ambiguity of the struggle, including Steven Spielberg’s “Munich.” I haven’t seen Julian Schnabel’s “Miral,” based on the novel/memoir by Rula Jabreal, the story of an orphanage for Palestinian girls whose parents were killed at Deir Yassin. Many had high hopes for the film, perhaps because of the widely acknowledged talent, warmth, and celebrity of Schnabel, but for one reason or another the movie never really took off.
“Inch’Allah” can’t boast the star power of Jean-Luc Godard or Julian Schnabel; its director, Barbeau-Lavalette, is young and highly regarded in the Quebec film world, but not any sort of household name. But her movie deserves the hopes and access to screens granted to “Miral,” and more. It is a tough, gritty, and intense portrayal of Palestinian life under the occupation and the moral dilemmas faced by those—like the Canadian doctor played by the gorgeous Evelyne Brochu—who get involved trying to help them. The Palestinians, three generations ago a rural and pacific people, have been ghettoized and hardened. More than any movie I’ve seen, “Inch’Allah” conveys the something of the feel of Palestinian life, sarcastic and bitter in the younger generations, old-fashioned in the older ones, trying cope under a system of domination and control far more sophisticated than anything South Africans could dream up.
The protagonist, Chloe, represents an element that has become a significant part of the struggle for Palestine, the Westerners who have gotten involved, often putting their lives on the line because however they might have felt about the establishment of Israel, they refuse to accept that this should mean Western complicity in Israel’s stamping on the Palestinians, forever. As Margaret Thatcher put it with precision, while Israel deserves to live in peace with secure borders, one must also work to fulfill legitimate Palestinian aspirations “because you cannot demand for yourself what you deny to other people.” Read More…
The most surprising exploration of Margaret Thatcher’s legacy comes from Ali Gharib, writing in Open Zion here. It is well known that the lady was well thought of by Britain’s Jews, particularly those of conservative tendency. Commentary was fond of her, as was Paul Johnson: she was, with her no-nonsense unapologetic bourgeois conservatism, her toughness and work ethic, a figure American neoconservatives considered an exemplary politician. They admired her far more than Reagan—something I recall from my days among that group and which could probably be documented without difficulty.
Given this, Gharib’s account of her positions on Israel and Palestine comes as a surprise. For here, Thatcher was not particualrly a neocon, but instead a partisan of international law and fairness. She was a Zionist in the sense that she believed in the justice of establishing a Jewish state in the Mideast, but—and here the distinction is critical—with the provision that Palestinians receive meaningful self-determination or statehood as well. And her belief in the sanctity of international law—to be enforced without remorse against land grabs by Argentinian generals or Saddam Hussein—she believed should apply to Israel as well, though of course as America’s junior partner she recognized that this was something which could only be talked about, not implemented.
For instance, Thatcher was quite clear that the Palestinians should have a full state along the ’67 borders once they recognized Israel. She thought Menachem Begin, with his aggressive settlement plans in “Judea and Samaria” was pursuing an “absurd” vision. She implicitly criticized Israel for its refusal to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and opposed Israel’s unilateral attack on the Iraqi reactor at Osirak. In a 1988 interview in the Times, she hoped Israel “might at last live in peace within secure borders, giving the Palestinian people their legitimate aspirations, because you cannot demand for yourself what you deny to other people.”
These last words, reflecting as they do the moral essence of the peace process, are critical. It is hard to improve on them. Shortly after Thatcher spoke, Israel would accelerate its settlement building under Shamir, a program designed to deny Palestinian aspirations for a state—and one that seems to have succeeded.
Can one imagine what would happen if a prominent American politician used words like Thatcher’s in an interview about Israel? What treatment they would get from National Review, the Weekly Standard, Fox, and Commentary (cf. Chuck Hagel)? What smears would be inflicted in prominent op-ed pages by Michael Gerson, Charles Krauthammer, Elliott Abrams, the varied minions of Bill Kristol? Something to contemplate this week as one reads the Thatcher panegyrics emanating from conservatives.
The so called P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran are apparently going nowhere. One can find small signs of optimism: there was, for instance, some serious give and take at the last session between negotiators. But right now what the West is offering—limited sanctions relief in return for Iran dismantling its major hard-to-destroy reactor—hasn’t impressed the current batch of Iranian negotiators. As I read the accounts—which are highly technical for non-experts—it appears that the Iranians believe that if they’re going to accept limits and more intrusive inspections on their program, they want full sanctions relief, an end to all “regime change” talk and actions, and formal recognition of their right to enrich uranium. Right now the U.S. is offering limited sanctions relief and little else. The sides are far apart.
What seems obvious is why Iran would feel it would want a nuclear deterrent. It is surrounded by other nuclear powers, and has seen Iraq—which lacked a nuclear program—invaded on the basis of a packet of lies and its government destroyed. It has seen the West act like the most prudent of realists when dealing with a nuclear North Korea, which behaves like a crazy and aggressive state in ways Iran does not. It has observed the world’s passivity as Israel built up a massive nuclear arsenal, and its silence while Israel shared its nuclear expertise with apartheid South Africa, then considered a rogue state. It would be hard to imagine that Iranians—who began their nuclear pursuit under the Shah—would hear Western proclamations about the sanctity of nuclear non-proliferation as anything but rank hypocrisy.
The real reasons for the obsession with Iran’s nuclear program are not vocalized, and perhaps—resting as they do under layers of self-deception and sublimated power drives—are not even fully comprehended this country’s leaders. Wiliam Pfaff makes the point here: Read More…
I’ve been under the weather for a few days, and resurface to find the world spinning out of control. North Korea, the boy-king with nukes. Syria now filled with foreign fighters, many from Europe, and Damascus University under mortar fire. And what, for instance, do people think about these photos ? (Nudity, NSFW, and all that.) They do get one’s attention.
I’m curious about the instigators, who are these generally attractive young, white for the most part, women? How many—if any—are former Muslims, rebel/apostates in the Ayaan Hirsi Ali sense? How many are more typical young Western feminists, appalled as everyone is by the misogony resurgent during the Arab spring, and wanting to protest it. How many are hipsters hoping to stir the pot, in the same spirit of young women I’ve heard of trying to “provoke” the Hassidim in Brooklyn by dressing provocatively? While the targets of the protest certainly make it seem compatible with a purely Islamophobic or neoconservative agenda, it’s beyond my imagination that anyone Pam Geller-inspired could organize anything like this. But then who?
One of the appealing things in modern Islam—which I’ve seen in Cairo and in Damascus seven years ago (certainly not now)—is the blend of symbols of piety and communal belonging with a studied sex appeal: the headscarf with tight jeans and good eye make-up look. It seems to connote a lot of good things, a sort of modernism within the tradition, a sensuality compatible with marriage and family, reverence for learning and education.
I can’t imagine that these protests, which I suspect will be the most widely viewed photographs from Morocco to Pakistan in the days ahead, will convey to men and women in those societies anything beyond antinomianism and anarchy and a sense that the West is hopelessly corrupt and doomed. And I can’t see them doing any good at all for Amina Tyler, the Tunisian nude body artist in whose name they are held. Still, I’m curious about the mentality and agenda of those who planned and instigated this. Unlike many political phenomena, it’s far from obvious.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that John Cassidy (a former Murdoch empire business editor) penned an essay from the New Yorker predicting that Marx the thinker, the analyst of capitalism, would come into vogue once more. In fact it was nearly 16 years ago, before Monica Lewinsky, before 9/11, before the Iraq and Afghan wars—two large market crashes ago. When I first read it, it struck a tiny chord—yes, he may be right—and if I reread it, (which I will when my New Yorker subscription kicks in) I suspect it will resonate a bit more.
Linked to Marx’s appeal as an analyst of capitalism is the fate of societies which ruled in his name—that is, the largely failed and now defunct communist world. As I recall, Cassidy separates Marx from those failures, though not completely successfully. There is, of course, a related nostalgia for the USSR in contemporary Russia, and even for Stalin. It could be rather obviously understood as a longing for order and a fondness for Soviet great power status. But I wonder if there aren’t more subtle sentiments involved in such stirrings as well.
Over the weekend I saw “Barbara” the Christan Petzold film about an East German dissident physician in her thirties who, for unspecified political reasons, is exiled from Berlin to a provincial hospital. She has a well-off boyfriend in the West, and is plotting her escape. The tension in the film revolves around her growth of a sense of duty and attachment to her patients, despite continuous surveillance and harassment from the Stasi, and the quite realistic prospect of much easier, safer, materially richer life on the other side of the wall. Read More…
As a born and bred Yankee fan, I always felt a tinge of envy for the Dodger fans who could wear their politics on their sleeve. Jackie Robinson—hard to deny his historical importance. And Dodger fans of a certain generation, a bit older than mine, could go through their day-to-day lives feeling virtuous, progressive, suffused with a kind of self-regarding anti-racist glow, in addition to enjoying great baseball. You would hear them boast about it for generations afterward. I’m not being sarcastic.
Sports are only interesting with a rooting interest. Tiger, for or against? (I’ve always been against, but now am now sliding towards for.) The Williams sisters? No. The Boston Patriots? No. The Miami Heat? No.
The NCAA is a problem because I never have a natural team. Columbia, sorry. So one has to construct artificial rooting interests. I tend to pull for teams with two or three key white players—for integrationist reason perhaps, or because the game would become less interesting if it became solely black, I don’t know. The great Knick teams of my youth had Bradley, Lucas, and DeBusschere as well as the sublime Clyde Frazier and Captain Willis Reed.
So, the Sweet Sixteen. Oregon Ducks. They have the only Iranian in the tournament, and probably in all of Division One basketball. Arselan Kazemi came to the states to play basketball, first at Rice, now with the Ducks. His father is an apparently bourgeois candy-factory owner; his parents learned that in America you could both study and play basketball, and here he is. I root for him for the same reason I rooted last year for “A Separation” to win the Academy Award for best foreign film. It was good movie, true. And it allowed one to observe cultural and moral life in a city (Teheran) in a time and a place that is globally important and not otherwise easily accessible. But also because it humanized Iranians and made the war the neoconservatives want the United States to launch against them a tiny, tiny bit less likely. Read More…
Nearly twenty years ago, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, with a towering Bill Clinton nudging them together, consummated their famous handshake on the White House lawn. Even for those with more than casual interest in the Middle East, the event seemed to signify that the conflict which had torn apart the Holy Land since the Balfour Declaration was heading for conclusion. Of course there were naysayers—the Columbia professor and Palestinian intellectual Edward Said most prominently—who warned that the Oslo process, codified by Clinton, did not actually advance Palestinian national aspirations; meanwhile the neoconservatives grouped around Commentary (including many of my then friends and political allies) were doing all they could to rally opposition against the Rabin government’s readiness to deal with Arafat’s PLO. In this symmetry it was easy to conclude that the accords, with their lawyerly timetables and details about Areas A, B, and C, could lead to no other conclusion but a Palestinian state—if under less favorable circumstances than the Palestinians might have had forty six years earlier.
There is not yet a comprehensive account of how that calculation—shared at the time by probably by tens of millions of others—would prove so woefully naive and wide of the mark, but in the meantime Rashid Khalidi’s short elegant work Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East provides suggestive answers. If you wonder how it is that President Obama has been reduced, twenty years after the famous handshake, to pleading with Israeli university students that Palestinians really do deserve a state—while apparently having given up trying to push the issue with Israel’s leadership, this book is an excellent place to start.
There are critical nuggets throughout. One justification for the accusatory title is the secret letter to Israel’s leaders Henry Kissinger prepared for Gerald Ford’s signature in 1975, stating, with regard to any comprehensive Arab-Israeli settlement: “Should the US desire in the future to put forward proposals of its own, it will make every effort to coordinate with Israel its proposals with a view toward refraining from putting forth proposals that Israel would consider unsatisfactory.” So much for Washington as an “honest broker” between the parties. Khalidi notes that Kissinger refrained from mentioning this item, which quite literally granted Israel a veto over American diplomacy in the Middle East, in his voluminous three volumes of memoirs.
Faced with Israeli obduracy, American presidents and diplomats invariably retreated. Even post-Oslo, the Israelis remained wedded to a concept of the negotiations laid out by Likud leader Menachem Begin in the 1970′s—a readiness to speak about “autonomy for the people” on the West Bank but never actual Palestinian sovereignty over the land itself. Rabin, widely considered the Israeli leader most interested in a genuine peace, surrounded himself with Likudnik figures who could never imagine the Palestinians in other than a subservient role. “Arafat has a choice, he can be a Lahd or a super-Lahd” once observed Rabin’s chief negotiator Shlomo Gazit: the reference was to Antoine Lahd, a leader of the collaborationist forces of South Lebanon which did police work for the Israeli army of occupation.
Obama’s speech to a hand-picked Israeli audience in Jerusalem had much good in it, and there are some who devote their professional lives to bringing about a reasonable two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians who consider it the best speech ever made to Israelis by an American President. It was significant that Obama told an Israeli audience in forthright terms that in Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority, they absolutely do have a partner for peace. It was significant that he made a connection between his own children and Palestinian girls he had met in Ramallah earlier–a sort of “de-otherizing” of the Palestinians, who have their own powerful and quite contemporary connection to the land of the Palestine Mandate, which Israelis certainly don’t hear from their own leaders.
It was expedient–cowardly is too strong a word–to tell an Israeli audience that Arab countries have regularly refused to recognize and make peace with Israel while failing to mention that there is an offer, from the Arab League, made in 2002 and reaffirmed five years later, to recognize Israel and establish full trade and commercial and every other sort of normal relations in return for a sovereign Palestinian state within the 1967 borders—and offer which Israel has refused thus far failed respond to or even acknowledge. And Obama’s assertion that Jews, who have succeeded and excelled in countless circumstances and environs, can only find “true freedom” within the bounds of the Zionist state could actually even sound anti-Semitic if said with the wrong accent. But overall, Obama did what he reasonably could to make Israelis feel he respects and understands them. Whether or not his innermost sentiments are as saccharine as those he expressed, such expressions are a requirement of American politics, and Obama showed, once again, that he is very good politician.
Were there more subtle messages in the structure of the speech? Obama stressed America’s unconditional, eternal support for the Jewish state, but with a twist: that this would be not enough to save Israel from diplomatic isolation, nor to ensure its security. After touching on the fact of Israel’s military and technological strength, and the extent of American military cooperation, the Iron Dome, and everything else, Obama stated bluntly that Israel will not be secure unless it makes peace. Many in the Arab world despise Israel, and the way to begin to reverse this is straightforward: “Progress with the Palestinians is a powerful way to begin.” In other words, though America “has Israel’s back” as he has said a million times in the campaign, if Israel wants to reverse the undertow of isolation it faces and find a secure place for itself in the region, it will have to make peace. There is no other way. He made the point more gently, couching it in so many “I love everything about Israel” flourishes that it might have been missed, but it was there.
But will the speech–good in many ways–make any difference? I doubt it. There may well be a critical mass, possibly even a majority, of Israeli university students who could find Obama’s argument persuasive. But Israel has just chosen, by relatively democratic means, a government committed to expanding settlements on the West Bank. Some new cabinet ministers are committed to annexing the West Bank, thus formalizing Israel’s status as an apartheid state. Netanyahu himself has voiced his nominal interest in “two states” but virtually no one familiar with his history and beliefs believes him at all interested in proposing anything more than bantustans for the Palestinians. By committing America to love Israel forever and unconditionally Obama may have blunted the barbs hurled his way by the Israel lobby. By making a powerful stategic and moral argument about peace to the Israeli people, he may be able to say to himself that he has done at least something to merit his Nobel Peace Prize.
But asking the Israeli people to push their government to make peace is really little more than a way of making a nice populist sounding noise while doing nothing. Without American diplomatic pressure, without Israel being forced to recognize there will be serious negative consequences for its West Bank seizure—and Obama has more or less promised none would be ever forthcoming, ever—he is asking an Israeli peace camp to do the impossible. Peace is unlikely to come of it. But if things turn out poorly for Israel in the next generation, Obama will be able to say “I told you so.”
Here a very local event foreshadows more profound consequences of changing American demographics and mores. The University of Pennsylvania student newspaper, edited by Jennifer Sun, has refused to publish a bigoted anti-Islam ad by the David Horowitz Freedom Center. The ads (which are meant to portray as representative of all Muslims some extreme instances of Muslim criminality) had been rejected by some student papers, accepted by others. I think it’s fairly obvious that no student paper in the current — say post-1960s — era would run a similar ad targeting any ethnic or religious group besides Muslims, one which seeks to take some instances of criminal behavior and make them stand for the group as whole. Sun issued a statement noting:
As a fellow student, I’ve been grateful for how diplomatic student leaders from the Muslim Students Association and PRISM [Penn's Interfaith Student group] have been when they approached us with their concerns. This advertisement hit hard, but the last intention we have is to insult or offend our fellow classmates.
Reading between the lines, it’s clear that critical cultural decisions at an Ivy League campus are being made by people who aren’t necessarily white Protestants, Catholics, or Jews, or indeed, African-American. The Ivy League has been diverse for a while, with many Asians; I’ve noted elsewhere that Students for Justice in Palestine groups are active in many elite campuses, where Muslim students often form a core contingent. But here the children of new immigrants are not just present, but assuming cultural leadership. This new America isn’t reflected yet in Congress, but it will be.
I can see potential pitfalls of course, but overall this seems a pretty favorable phenomenon. Bigotry against Islam has long been the only remaining socially acceptable form of American bigotry, and it played a big role in greasing the skids towards the disastrous Iraq war, as it does in the reflexive deference to Israel in the U.S. Congress. White Protestants who could no longer publicly despise (as many of their ancestors did) Catholics, or blacks, or Jews, found they could hate Arabs and be sanctified by Bernard Lewis and Abe Foxman. Several trillion dollars and thousands of lives later, Americans may have begun to realize these attitudes come with a price. Look at Penn, and welcome the new day.
Donald Trump may be nearly the last person at CPAC from whom I would expect a sound idea. His recent contributions to public debate have in the main been noisy dog whistle appeals to racialism and xenophobia, couched in concerns about President Obama’s birth certificate. The impact of these has been nil, apart from making the country more partisan and any sort of governing “vital center” harder to reach. But I couldn’t resist clicking when confronted with Josh Marshall’s snarky headline on TPM: “Trump: Send us your white people.”
While it was a important concern of mine during the 1990s, the immigration issue has largely ceased to interest me. Recently I’ve written about it mostly to suggest that multiculturalism may well play into paleoconservative foreign policy preferences–and that the neoconservatives may have shot themselves in the foot in their efforts to purge immigrations restrictionists (reformers, they used to be called) in the 1990s.
But if one watches the news, it’s difficult to ignore the GOP’s fumbling on the issue, the seemingly complete inability of its leaders and spokesmen to find anything positive, forceful or compelling to say. One immigration restrictionist who plays a prominent role in the Washington debate told me recently that GOP congressmen and senators are like deer in the headlights, casting around blindly for the position that will do them the least political harm. And despite the apparent importance of the issue to their party, virtually none of them have done any homework to understand it.
Enter, in his characteristic way, Donald Trump. Anyone in the restaurant and hotel business, which Trump very much is, employs a lot immigrants. My surmise is his attention to immigration law is average for the sector: that is, he will do what he can get away with to hire the best people he can at the lowest wages. In his talk to CPAC he was blunt: the 11 million illegal immigrants who everyone talks about giving a path to legalization are mostly going to become Democrats. That didn’t stop him from saying–almost in a whisper, that of course “we’ve got to do the right thing”–which meant providing the illegals a path to a green card.
But then he said something else. He began talking about the difficulty of immigrating to the U.S. from Europe by the highly educated. Of course he used over the top examples–the brilliant student at Harvard, Wharton, etc, who wasn’t going to work as an illegal alien and couldn’t find a way to work here legally. Such people exist, but are a small relative number. But there’s an important point here, one that that Republicans should jump on. The immigration issue isn’t entirely what to do about the estimated 10-12 million illegal aliens living here “in the shadows.” That’s part of it. But the more important part–entirely ignored by the current GOP (and by Democrats as well, but since immigration is a GOP problem, their ignorance is more critical) is legal immigration.