Previously, on the pogg blog:

#CancelDubi – thoughts following #CancelColbert

Over the past several days I’ve been engaged in some… umm, let’s call them “debates”, following the #CancelColbert hashtag on twitter, that have given me pause and left me very confused about what I think is right and good and proper.

Let me, however, start with what I know is wrong and bad: the deluge of repulsive, abhorrent, disgusting, racist and misogynist comments and threats leveled at Suey Park and her supporters for their opinions. It boggles my mind how people who are purportedly defending an anti-racist satire think they can do that through use of the most reprehensible language and imagery imaginable. Of course, women, and women of colour in particular, were not much surprised by this – it’s become the standard in on-line interaction; but we – white males – must raise our voices against these people. There is nothing Park or her supporters did — indeed, there is hardly anything they could have done — that could possibly make this response proportional, justified or even explainable in a logical manner. If anything would make me yield and accept the dictum that if I don’t want to be against PoC’s, I have to sit down and shut up, it’s this sort of behaviour from other white males. Because how can women facing this sort of barrage stop and discern between those who are merely attempting to engage in a critical discussion, and those who are not interested in the least in hearing their opinions? They can’t. When you get pummeled from all directions, you don’t stop to see if your retaliation might hit an innocent passer-by. It’s the passer-by’s responsibility to get the hell out of your way.

And this is sad, and terrible, and destroys this precious platform that had so much potential for public discourse. It ruins it for us, and it ruins it for people of colour who themselves are afraid to dissent, for fear they will be labeled traitors to their race. Not even sure there’s much we can do about this anymore, so it’s just sad.

I could go on and on about this, because, if anything, this is the one thing I could hope to have an influence on, but others have written so much better about this than I can ever hope to do, so go read them, and then maybe come back here for the remainder of my inane thoughts.


My initial response to the #CancelColbert idea was incredulity. Colbert was mocking racism, and using atrociously obvious mock racism to do so, and then he’s being called out for being a racist because of that? That simply didn’t make sense. There has been a double-lack-of-context here, though. Suey Park, who originated the hashtag, only saw a tweet from the Colbert Report official twitter account, which gave no context for the racist remark, thus taking away its satirical edge in a stupid, stupid way (which Colbert himself acknowledged later). I, when first hearing of this, didn’t know that Park lacked the context when she first responded. I probably would have judged her less harshly had I known this.

However, even after learning the context, Park did not back down, and doubled down on her cause, arguing that “this isn’t about white liberals wanting to change the name, or their devotion to destroying settler-colonialism: It’s about their feeling entitled to make jokes about “The Other” in the name of “progress.””.

And, you know what, I get this. Colbert may have thought that he’s choosing a type of racism that is obviously passe and everybody realizes how reprehensible it is, but if we’ve learned anything from the comments Park got, it’s that a lot of Colbert viewers (let alone other people) don’t see it as so. So I would totally go along with a call for an apology, that would seek to educate Colbert on just how rampant racism against Asians still is, and that, while they understand and empathize with his objective, the way he chose to do it is itself hurtful and counterproductive. I think that would probably have been beneficial to everyone. So my main issue with Park’s supporters was the language they were choosing to use – a violent, abusive language (although, let this be clear – nowhere near as abusive as their detractors, which I already disccussed), that alienates possible allies who aren’t in the habit of being kicked in the gut to atone for others’ sins. (As an aside, Katherine Cross argues that Park’s original statement was itself satirical. If that is so, we’ve seen the mother of all Poe’s Laws taking place here. Certainly none of the women I’ve argued with in the last few days thought the demand to Cancel Colbert should be taken as anything but literally, or at least did not find it necessary to clarify to me that it is if I misunderstood them).

At some point I asked one of my interlocutors what she thinks she achieves by constantly f-bombing me. She simply said that the voices of PoC’s are finally heard. Which struck me as odd, because, if anything, this sort of language was making me not listen at all. Shouldn’t they try to at least get heard by the people whose behaviour they are trying to change?

Giving it some more thought, however, two things become clear: one, it’s not about white men, obviously. They’re not trying to make white men change their behaviour. They’re trying to change social structures so that white men would not have the ability to choose whether or not they wish to be nice to PoCs. Which I get, and agree with to an extent, though I’m not exactly sure how this can be achieved without, you know, at least some of us white men. Also, I’m a white man, so being excluded kinda sucks. Yeah, yeah, I know, boohoo, but, well, it is ME. I’m allowed to care about me, right? There are very few completely selfless people out there, and I sort of think this delicate balance between including willing white men in the road to change, and not making this ABOUT the white men, should be possible.

The other thing I figured out is that, in fact, maybe this sort of language is necessary. Would that many people get engaged in this debate were it to start out as a polite request to the Colbert Report people? I don’t think so. Maybe being vicious and violent really is the only way for PoC to be heard, to get over the obstacles and reach — not white men — but one another, across fences that a white-male dominated world has erected to divide and pacify.

But being male, and white, this leaves me with a lot of questions about what I, or we, can do about this. Could it be that the best I could do is keep my trap shut and uncritically support anything women of colour (or LGBT people, for that matter) say, because I just can’t hope to understand it anyway? Is getting just the hell out of the way, shutting down and shutting out, the right thing to do? Doesn’t this leave the arena only to those white men who have no wish to support the causes of people of colour? Can change be achieved without a bridge to connect the two poles?

I honestly don’t know. I came out of this experience thoroughly confused, but it just feels wrong for the lesson to simply be Shut Up and Stay Out.

Cartel Government

It’s hard for me to put into words how angry I am with the recent decision of the ministerial committee for legislation to support bills intended to prevent foreign funding of left-wing civil society in Israel.

When they teach you of the development of parties in Political Science 101, you learn how parties started out as elitist organizations, which developed into mass parties with the rise of labour movements, and then went through a process of degeneration into skeleton parties that are only really active within society during election campaigns. The problem with skeleton parties is that it’s hard for them to get funding. So they evolve into what is called the “cartel party model”. Actually, it’s more of a “cartel party system model”, where the different parties join hands to create a legislative web that keeps them in power and prevents new competition from entering the field. Funding becomes dependent on the state, and obstacles are put in place for new parties to organize and run for parliament.

In Israel we are now seeing something new: a cartel government. A government that abuses its power to prevent the opposition from posing a real electoral threat on it, unless they accept the government’s own ideology, by pain of severe economic damage to them and to organizations dear to them. In essence, the government is saying that organizations that do not serve the its interests or those of wealthy capitalists, cannot exist financially. This is true of the new laws against donations to organizations, and it is true of the boycott law.

A democracy is a system based on legitimacy. Legitimacy in democracies comes from the recognition that the system is fair, that a minority can become the majority through persuasion. That, after all, is the limitation Israeli Arabs are facing: they can never become the majority, and therefore, as long as the system discriminates them based on their nationality, they cannot view it as legitimate.

But with the new laws, another group is excluded by Israeli democracy. Now human rights organizations are also not allowed to try and convince the public of the value of their values. They are forbidden, effectively, from trying to persuade the public, to reveal reality as they perceive it, and try to become a majority that will alter public policies in those areas dear to them. If previously Israel was democratic for its Jews and Jewish for its Arabs, now it isn’t even that anymore. Not it’s Jewish to its Arabs and Rightist to its Jews. A state of all its Rightists.


Neither Your Honey Nor Your Sting

The EU, US and Canada must react forcefully to this decision by Israel. They must inform Israel that if their money smells so bad when given to civil society, then it smells just as bad when it is given to the state or its businesses. All foreing aid to Israel must be suspended immediately. Trade agreements too. Israel must be banned from the OECD. Sanctions should be placed on all donations by private donors to Israeli organizations – thus at least leveling the playing field between right- and left-wing organizations in Israel. If Israel doesn’t want the sting, it can’t have the honey, the world must say to Israel.

If Israel is boycotting the money of the international community, the international community must boycott Israel. Plain and simple. We can’t keep playing this game of touch-and-go democracy. If the cartel government takes away from the opposition the most basic democratic tools allowing it for fight for its beliefs legally, then we have no alternative but to fight illegally. Bring it on.

(No, without violence.)

In defence of the Vote Compass

It turns out there’s a small brouhaha surrounding the CBC’s “Vote Compass” – a web-quiz that queries your opinions on a variety of issues and compares them to the party stands on these issues to give you your relative distance from each party. The tool – full disclosure: Cliff van der Linden, one of the key developers of the tool is a personal friend of mine and a colleague at the University of Toronto Political Science department – is not designed to tell people who they should vote for, but to educate them about the issues at stake and where the different parties stand on each of them. It’s a fairly sophisticated tool, considering the small input it has to work with, allowing the user to discount issues that the user doesn’t care about and give her the results based only on those issues she does care about.

Of course, any such tool will be far from perfect. For example, when I took the quiz, and after discounting the Quebec issue, which I really don’t care about, I was told I’m closest to the BQ. This hardly makes sense, as Quebec sovereignty is the raison d’etre of the party. This would be like voting for the Green party because I agree with them on everything except the environmental issues, which I don’t care about.

But this is only natural in a tool like this. Any attempt to flatten the political world into two dimensions is destined to fall somewhat short. That’s why nobody suggests this replaces our common sense and our own political thinking. That’s why nobody claims that this tool will tell you who to vote for. But it is an extremely good tool to simplify the cognitive effort needed to collect information about the various parties – a notoriously problematic issue in electoral behaviour.

The fuss about Vote Compass turns around the claim that the tool is biased against the liberals. The argument is nicely summed up in this video, which you can tell was made by a conservative because (a) he is FILMING THE COMPUTER SCREEN instead of capturing it, and (b) he uses Internet Explorer (see? THIS is a Liberal bias):

What can we learn from this video? We can learn that if you answer the quiz like a trained monkey rather than as a human being, you get the exact middle, no matter what you click on again and again. Clearly, CBC is after that elusive simian vote. Now, I’ve never talked with Cliff on this, but I’m willing to bet this is not a bug but a feature. It’s just good polling sense to pose your questions from opposite directions. So the environmental topics, “owned” by the left are presented from a left-wing point of view (“I agree that we should invest more in alternative fuels”) whereas right-wing issues are phrased from a right-wing point of view (“I agree that abortions should be criminalized”). All the above IE-user discovered is that the quiz is actually completely balanced, with 15 questions on left-wing issues and 15 questions on right-wing issues (he even comments, as he takes and retakes the quiz, on how there’s a bunch of left-wing questions, and then is surprised that actually, here’s a bunch of right-wing questions). No reasonable voter taking the quiz will answer all questions with the same answer (except, maybe, for the neither agree nor disagree option, in which case I doubt the quiz will help him – you need to come up with some opinions first…), and the Liberals ARE closest to the very middle of the map, and the left IS divided between too many parties. It is, after all, safe to assume that if the BQ, NDP and Greens all withdrew before the coming elections, the Liberals would win by a landslide, because they would dominate the left as well as a large part of the centre.

Again, the tool is far from perfect. That the BQ and Greens are virtually identical in their positions, for example, emphasizes the lack of an “issue salience” dimension that is only partially dealt with through the issue-discounting mechanism. But it’s not supposed to be perfect, it’s supposed to be helpful, and in that capacity, it’s an extremely good tool for Canadians.

update: Here’s a short video I made explaining how this works.

You got some ‘splaining to do! (Social Sciences 101)

Throughout my years as a PhD student I’ve been assigned to TA first year courses. This experience has been a sobering one, in that it has been a constant reminder of how the way I think today is not the way the “average Joe” thinks about things. A decade of engagement with the social sciences has made me think of society and politics in a way that is difficult for some people to comprehend – not because it’s so clever, but because it’s somewhat foreign to our normal state of mind when we think about these topics.

This creates a gap that undergrads in the social sciences have to leap over if they hope to do well in university. I will try to lay out what this gap is and ways of conceptualizing the Social Science type of thinking that is expected of students in these fields, that will help them bridge it as painlessly as possible.

When we approach politics, or social problems of any sort, our initial inclination is to ask “how can we fix this?”, or, if we have a normative goal, to ask “how can we reach it?” These are very good questions, but if we assume the social sciences are a good way of answering them (and many would disagree), then we have to set them aside at first. Instead, we have to first ask “how can we explain this?” or “what causes it?” For many students, the question “what causes X” is equal to the question “how can we achieve X?” (or, sometimes, “how can we achieve not-X?”), but the two are not identical. “How can we achieve X” is a question of public policy. It assumes that X is achievable through public policy, and therefore the answer will inevitably be “public policy” (of some sort). But not everything is caused by public policy, and even when policy is involved, it isn’t necessarily the only factor.

To answer a question like “what causes X”, or “what explains X” we need to make use of the scientific method, and that means we must look for variance. Y explains X when a change in Y correlates with a change in X and there is a reasonable mechanism that connects the two in that causal direction. (The classic example is that foot size does not cause children to be older – getting older leads to growing foot size). This means that if there is no variance, then we cannot speak of an explanation. That is also why a single case, in a single point in time, cannot provide explanations – it is anecdotal.1

I’ll use an example from an assignment I’m grading now. The question had to do with Adam Smith’s explanation of economic development: does he argue it is caused by the effort of individuals, or does he argue economic development is a function of state policies? On the face of it, the answer seems obvious: Smith claims that states should stay out of markets – that they should not have policies at all in regards to economic development; he further argues that the best economic success will be achieved if people are left to their own devices in a free market. Isn’t it clear that Smith sees economic development as the product of individual effort alone?

But here’s the snag: Smith believes all people are basically equal when it comes to effort. Every person is special in his or her own way, and can specialize in some activity, to the benefit of all. Smith’s view is a utopian one: the “natural state” of man is of global economic advancement, because people naturally seek the most beneficial employment for their skills. There is no variance in the “individual effort” variable according to Smith. It is not that some societies are productive and others are lazy. The variance lies in state policies. According to Smith, what changes from one society to the next is how much state interference there is in the market. Those states with the least interference enjoy the most economic development.

It is clear, then, that Smith saw the explanation for variance in economic development in state policies, not in individual effort. It is a negative relationship, yes, but a negative relationship is still a relationship. Where there is no variance in one of the variables, no relationship can ever be found.

The Smithian example emphasizes the difference between explaining and solving. The explanation is that economic advancement varies as a function of state policy, not of individual effort. The solution to the problem of economic development, according to Smith, is to withdraw the state completely from the market and allow human effort and the invisible hand of the market to do their magic.

Young social scientists, therefore, must train themselves to seek out explanations. The easiest way to do that is to think of problems in terms of variables and look for variance: what independent (explaining) variable changes from case to case, and what is the relationship between that change and changes to the dependent (explained) variable.

Inevitably, many of the explanations are more complex than that: there are interaction effects between a number of explaining variables. But these interactions must also be investigated. Too often students just shrug and say that all explanations have a part in the actual explanation. But this is the easy way. The harder, but better, way is to see how the explanations interact with each other.

For instance, let’s imagine an explanation composed of two variables – say, wealth and education of a society – and the question is how do these two explain democratization. One way of thinking of it is by building “trees”. For instance:

In this fabricated example, we can see that wealth is the primary determinant: poor countries according to this tree do not democratize, regardless of their education levels (did I mention this is fabricated?). However, education does play a role in more affluent countries – countries in the intermediate and rich groups with educated populations tend to democratize more than do states without educated populations.

Only once we know the reasons for something, can we start thinking in terms of policies to mitigate a problem or achieve a goal. These policies, however, should not appear in undergraduate papers (unless asked for directly) except in the very conclusions, as that is exactly what they are: conclusions drawn from an analysis of the available data.

Growing up as a social scientist is exactly the development of this distinction between explanation and solution, and the realization that the latter can only grow out of the former.

  1. This is not to say single case studies are worthless – they can be used either to suggest mechanisms, or to test theories that have already been developed, but they can never be seen as conclusive evidence of a theory that was devised based on that single case. []

IsraLeft Salvage/Guest Post: late bloomers

I welcome Or Bareket, a fellow writer for IsraLeft, as a guest blogger here in the pogg blog. Or’s posts will be posted at uneven intervals here throughout the next few weeks. This one was originally published on July 25, 2009.

The mainstream reaction to the evidence presented by “Shovrim Shtika” was shown here. But it was not the only public response. Prominent politicians, media representatives, authors, academic figures and such – most of them recognized with what is called the “Zionist Left” (a term that describes most of Israel’s left – a nationalist left) – have signed a petition calling for putting together an Israeli, objective, independent committee to check the claims made by the soldiers (it’s an open petition, but their role in it was publicly emphasized for understandable reasons). I, of course, support this call. However, I have some reservations.

First, I’d like to welcome the nationalist left, it’s about time. The evidence of Israeli war crimes were visible, photographed and video taped while operation Cast Lead operation was underway, for anyone who wishes to hold his eyes open (and as Rod has shown, not many people wished to) to see. After the operation ended till this day there was a steady trickle of evidence. More and more of these evidence were published. The only difference between those evidence and the new “Shovrim Shtika” evidence is that this time around the evidence are brought to light by “our own people”.

During the operation and right after its end, one who wished to hear and see could be faced by evidence of Israeli war crimes1 such as massive shelling, killing of innocents – or as the military refers to them, “uninvolved persons” – using illegal weapons such as white phosphorus and more. The problem was that these evidence and testimonies were presented by human rights organizations and the UN committees – which are, according to Israeli claims of course, totally biased and anti-Israeli, if not anti-Semitic; or in other cases presented by Palestinians, in which cases Israel disregards them completely.

This phenomenon, in which the mainstream left begins to doubt the Israeli actions months after they are over, but supports them with different levels of enthusiasm in real time is not new. It happened in operation Cast Lead, it also happened in the second Lebanon war in 2006. And every other time the mainstream left was caught by surprise by the Israeli actions. The reasons for this phenomenon are a subject matter for another post, here I just meant to point that out. With this in mind the current calling for investigations come out, at least to me, as somewhat hypocritical – but I can live with that.

My more important reservation is that if such a committee will eventually be founded, it will only be used as kind of a rubber stamp as often happens when any organization is checking itself. My fear is that the committee will declare no real evidence has been presented, and that this will allow the mainstream left to go back to its caves and wallow in its own self-righteousness, until the next operation, of course, after which the mainstream left will surely be very surprised again.

What I’d like to see is Israel helping the human rights organizations and the U.N. representatives in any way it can. Not disregarding them in advance as biased. You deny any war crimes have been committed? Help the people who check the claims to see that. That way you can also make sure it’s not biased.

Usually I don’t support the logic, “If you are truly innocent then you have nothing to fear from someone checking up on you”. In this case, it’s seems like the only correct path.

  1. A disclaimer you are welcome to add to all future posts on the subject – I am well aware of the fact that Hamas also comittes war crimes – from firing rockets on Israeli citizens to hiding in its own civilian population. Howwhever I believe one wrong does not justify another, and I’ll stick to that belief. []

IsraLeft Salvage: Magnanimity: On The Virtues of Ze’ev Jabotinsky

This concludes my IsraLeft Salvage project, with my first ever post that was based on my academic work – work that was presented at the Association for Israel Studies conference in 2010, and is now going through the arduous process of publication (hopefully). This is me mulling over some ideas by taking what is essentially a footnote in that paper, and turning it into a full fledged argument. Originally published January 23, 2010.

In War: Resolution. In Defeat: Defiance. In Victory: Magnanimity. In Peace: Goodwill.

- Winston Churchill

Bi-nationalism has never had much support in the Zionist movement. Only tiny, fringe groups such as Brit Shalom and the Ihud movement, as well as a few notable personalities such as Martin Buber and Judah Magnes, have supported this idea in the years leading up to Israel’s independence.

Oh, and also leader of the right-wing liberal Revisionist movement, Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Many are aware that Jabotinsky has proclaimed that in the Jewish state, when the Prime Minister is Jewish, his deputy should be an Arab, and when the Prime Minister is Arab (in the Jewish state!), his deputy should be Jewish. Few know that this was not merely an oratory proclamation, but part of Jabotinsky’s suggestion for Israel’s constitution. Fewer still really give much thought to Jabotinsky’s vision of Israel – those on the left prefer to view him through the prism of contemporary right wing Israeli politics, while those on the right invoke his name but prefer not to invoke his ideals. And they know why: Jabotinsky’s plans for Israel were wildly different from what his supposed followers now preach. If anything, however, today’s right-wing carried on the disingenuous disposition of Mapai, the socialist movement that has lead Zionism during the years directly preceding and the decades following independence.

But Jabotinsky’s teachings are worthwhile to study1, because he had a keen perception of reality which at the same time did not dampen a no less keen moral sense. More than anyone else in Zionism’s history (seconded by Menachem Begin, Jabotinsky’s only true follower to amount to anything in Israeli politics), Ze’ev Jabotinsky adhered to the principles set out by Winston Churchill in full: not just resolution in war and defiance in defeat – anyone can do that, but goodwill in peace, and most important of all, that most elusive of virtues: magnanimity in victory – these are the marks of a truly moral human.

Jabotinsky’s writings as a whole are a peculiar tangle of liberal thought and romantic nationalism. But when he wrote on the topic of the Arabs in Palestine, his analysis was insightful and incisive. He warned those who spoke of bi-nationalism that the Arabs will never agree to the formation of a bi-national state in the Land of Israel so long as they are given choice. More importantly, they are completely justified in this refusal. Jabotinsky, unlike his socialist contemporaries or his alleged successors in the Israeli right, did not think that Jewish claims to the Land of Israel lessened in any way the claims of Palestine’s Arabs to the land of their own forefathers. He knew that no solution will be fully moral, and that as a result, force will have to prevail if the Jews are to have any place of their own in the world. The natives of a land, he noted – speaking of the Arabs, of course – never cede their power over it, nor should they willingly do so morally.

The bi-nationalists, then, could never really hope to get the agreement of the indigenous inhabitants of the land to be colonized2. But if the bi-nationalists were overly idealistic, the socialists were downright disingenuous. In their own internal communications the leaders of the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine supported the Partition Plan with the clear intention that the initial space allotted to the Jews would merely be a stepping stone towards expanding the Jewish state. When four decades later people accused Yasser Arafat of harboring intentions for a “phases plan” of slowly taking over larger and larger portions of Israel’s territory until nothing is left, little did they know that such a plan would merely mirror the plans of the Jewish leadership on the eve of the declaration of independence.

Even when giving half-hearted lip-service to the notion of a bi-national state, those leaders admitted internally that the purpose was to establish “facts on the ground” until a Jewish majority can be achieved between the Jordan river and the sea, which would then allow for a “democratic take-over” of the state. Again, a strategy mirrored by the “Palestinian womb as a weapon” strategy propagated by Arafat. It is not surprising, therefore, to see the demographic issue as a constant threat, dictating policy in Israel since its creation.

But while the socialists strove to achieve a majority so they may abrogate Arab rights altogether, Jabotinsky believed that once a majority is achieved, it can then be leveraged to convince the Arab inhabitants of the Jewish state to take a full partnership in the state, including, as noted above, sharing the government equally, as well as equitable duties such as military service, alongside equal rights. He believed that from a position of power, we may – as was eventually written in the declaration of independence but never really done in reality – extend a peaceful hand to our new neighbours, and build a state that can serve as a real home for both peoples.

Jabotinsky never lived to see the Jewish state rise from the ashes of murderous war. For a long time his followers in the Knesset were too weak to influence policy in any significant manner, and by the time they have achieved power they have already been corrupted by repeated wars and occupation (not to mention Begin’s own quirks, which exceed the scope of this post), and little remained of the hadar (“glory”) of their leader of yore, replaced instead with more base ideas of honour (in the sense more akin to “honour killings” than any other conception of honour).

And yet, it is still not to late too show magnanimity. We are still the victors in this prolonged battle. To change our tune once Jews are again a minority in the Land of Israel will be not only pathetic, but also useless – we cannot hope to get from the Palestinians what we never gave to them. We are at a critical place in the history of our two peoples: strong enough to still be able to extend our hand from a position of power, but weak enough to be able to see the unappealing alternative. As more and more people on both sides grow disillusioned with the false hope of a two-state solution, it is now the time to push for a just, sustainable solution that will see this land shared – not divided – between the two peoples who call it a home.

  1. bet you didn’t expect THAT on a leftist blog! []
  2. Jabotinsky was probably the first to peg the Zionist endeavor as a colonial one. []

IsraLeft Salvage/Guest Post: Walking A Deadly Path

Rod Avissar has graciously agreed to let me reprint his original post, to which my “Not a Nightmare” post was a response, if only to preserve context – and also because it would be a shame to lose it. Originally published November 17, 2009.

On the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some speak of a bi-national state as the optimal solution. In their vision, they see Israel-Palestine as a sort of Belgium or, to a lesser extent, Canada- a country where Jews and Palestinians co-exist under one democracy and lead their lives together happily and peacefully. Just recently the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, was quoted saying that perhaps this is the best solution for the region. What they seem to neglect, the people who side a bi-national state solution, apart from the fact that the parties involved don’t seem to want this solution, is the road map that would lead to this utopia. It’s difficult to see now, but the Israeli current government is in fact walking that exact path – and yet, I think the people who side a bi-national state solution object the current Israeli policy. You see, the way to a one-state solution, Israel-Palestine, takes the region through the most horrible type of an apartheid regime, before arriving at its desired end. There really seems to be no other way. And furthermore, it works vice versa as well: As long as the peace process is delayed by a headstrong Israeli government, which also issues an increasing number of bills concerned with nothing more than preserving the pure ethnicity of Israel – in other words: As long as Israeli government walks down the path to a full, formal apartheid, it is walking down a bloody path to a bi national state. They say history repeats itself. As Douglas Adams once wrote, it has to – nobody listens.

Three seemingly unrelated trends are distinguishable in Israel’s current policy. One is the treatment of non-citizens in Israel. This mainly refers to Refugees from the Darfur genocide, work-immigrants and illegal, as well as legal foreign workers. However, this also includes other types of non-Jews: Non-Jews who were married to Israeli citizens who passed away or divorced them before their naturalization was complete, for example. All these are often tied together, as if a refugee from the Darfur hell is anything like a foreign worker whose permit expired two months ago and as if these two are anything like a work-immigrant who never had a permit to begin with. The problem is that while Israel has a very strict, clear policy as to who can be a citizen, it has virtually no immigration policy. Whatever immigration policy it does have, Israel fails to enforce.

Well, Israel over-enforces now. 1200 families of foreign workers whose license expired, with children who were born and raised here, kids who speak Hebrew and relate to Israel as the only place they’ve ever known, are facing deportation. The Prime Minister keeps postponing decision about their fate, and so they are facing the unknown. Israel now operates its own immigration police – a unit called Oz, which stands both for “Courage” in Hebrew, and the Hebrew initials of the term “Ovdim Zarim” – foreign workers. The courageous Oz troopers hunt down illegal aliens and, in an act of pure bravery, deport them. The problem is that Oz troopers don’t ask questions. What dangers await this work-immigrant with an expired visa when he gets to his home country? How long has he lived here?

Some of the readers will have raised an eyebrow by now. If they are illegal, they think, they ought to be deported. That’s true. But it’s not as if Israel had decided to put an end to foreign work. Others will come to replace them. The current Israeli minister of interior affairs, Eli Yishai of the racist, ultra orthodox conservative party Shas, who leads the war against foreigners, is also the minister who issued the largest quantity of work permits in former terms, and is just about to break his own record this term. Since an illegal worker is only illegal because his or her visa has expired, one might ask why not extend the permit of the people who are already here, rather than deport them and bring others to replace them. One possible answer would be that if this indeed is done, the manpower agencies would be less profitable, so one might conclude that minister Yishai may be operating to increase the profit of such agencies, out of, perhaps, his own narrow interest. People with money who need politicians in order to make more money can often be very persuasive.

But let us put aside, momentarily, the more debatable subject of work immigrants. Let’s talk about refugees. Several hundred Sudanese have managed to infiltrate Israel in their attempt to escape the bloody ethnocide there. Recently it has been proposed to put them in labour camps: They will go out to work every day, and their salary will be taken away from them to finance the camp they will stay in. Apart from the horrible historic connotation this has – I mean, this is far worse than your old Jewish person in a German made car, isn’t it? – there’s also something fundamentally wrong in the very attempt to deter refugees from hitting your shore. These people are fleeing for their lives, for heaven’s sake.

And that’s not even it. Oz’s brave troopers have recently started to operate against other types of non-Jews. There are two major types of non-Jews non-citizens who aren’t work immigrants: One is non-Jews who are married to Israeli citizens, and did not yet finish the long process of naturalization in order to become permanent residents. Should the spouse now die, or divorce them, they will face deportation.

The other type is people who immigrated here by virtue of the law of return, but are suspected to have given false information. A brief explanation: Israel grants automatic citizenship to any Jew, or anyone who has at least one Jewish parent or grandparent. This is called “The law of return” (Hok HaShvut, in Hebrew). But the ministry of pure bloodinterior continues to investigate them years after they got their citizenship, and if they find a piece of evidence that maybe the grandfather of the family wasn’t Jewish, they take away their citizenship and, well, deport them. This can be done after the family has lived in Israel as citizens for years, after the children have served in the Israeli army, and so on.

So, the ministry of interior is operating to keep Israel free of non-Jewish blood. However, Israel already has non-Jewish citizens. I’m talking about the roughly 1.5 million Israeli Palestinians – that is, Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. Trust the Israeli government that the second trend in its decision making process will address this inherent danger to Jewish purity of blood.
The second trend is the continuous discrimination policy against Israeli Arabs. An Israeli court recently ruled that the law enforcement authorities treat Arabs and Jews differently. This surprised no one: The discrimination in all aspects of life is obvious to anyone who doesn’t wish to remain oblivious to it. For example: Israel tears down houses built illegally by Israeli Arab citizens all the time. However, Israel doesn’t issue any building permits to its Arab citizens. If an Arab Israeli citizen wishes to build a house, there are two ways he can go about doing that: He can apply for a permit, be turned down, appeal, be turned down again and so on and so forth, until maybe one day his application will be accepted (slim chances at best). Or he could build illegally. Again, this is only illegal because Israeli authorities arbitrarily deem it such, by simply not issuing enough permits. And then the bulldozers come and tear the house down, because it was built illegally – of course, there was no other way to build it. Arabs don’t really need a roof over their heads, do they?

In Jerusalem, the authorities are taking “Legality” to its extreme limit: After tearing down numerous houses in eastern Jerusalem for being illegal – and in eastern Jerusalem, maybe more than anywhere in Israel, it is impossible to get construction permits – and after occupying Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem with Jewish residents (Sure enough, they – the Jewish residents – did get permits for construction), the authorities are moving to the next logical stage: They issued evacuation notices to the people of Wallage, an Arab village that is, apparently, within the municipal annexed territory of Jerusalem. Their houses are to be destroyed to make room for a new Jewish neighbourhood there.

Yes, you heard correctly: Out go the Arabs, in come the Jews. And this is all done legally, of course. The law always sides the landlord. I was talking to one of the gardening workers where I live, a nice man from the Israeli-Arab village Abu Gosh. He told me that about 30 “Israelis” are now leasing apartments in the village, and was very excited about how they picked his village to live in. I commented that all Abu Gosh residents are Israelis, and that he probably meant to say “Jews”. “You know”, he said to me, “They (The authorities, R.A.) have so many ways to tell me, every day, that I’m not Israeli, that I’m not equal – I sometimes begin to believe them”.

The third trend in Israeli policy is its attempts to bring an end to the peace process, but not by bringing the process to a successful end. Israel is stalling, taking its time, while the settlements keep on growing and the separation wall keeps biting off more and more Palestinian lands. Just recently, the Israeli government authorized a bill that states Israel will not reach a peace agreement with any Arab state before this state offers compensation for the property of Jews who fled from that country to Israel. That means Israeli law will prohibit peace with the Palestinians before all the Arab nations cough up some money. It’s, indeed, one of those meaningless bills meant to stir up some headlines and gain some votes because it sounds good; but one which will be easy to pass in case there’s a real peace agreement. But still, it serves to show just how willing Israel (and Israeli public opinion) is to achieve such an agreement.

The trail is pretty obvious: Settlements and the Separation Wall will impose the borders of semi-independent Palestinian autonomies, separated geographically and dependent on the government in Jerusalem for basic economic needs, unable to provide for themselves due to their structure. Or in other words, bentustans. Then, Israeli non-Jews will be deported – Arabs to the bentustans, which will be known as the Palestinian Authority, other non-Jews to their origin countries, leaving Israel the ethnocracy that South Africa never managed to become. This horrific kind of apartheid will surely provoke resistance, and the area will be stained with the blood of all parties involved. After a few decades, Israelis will cave in to the international pressure and their own sense of justice, and the apartheid regime will collapse. A bi-national state will emerge from it. We know how the process works- we’ve seen it before.

It’s truly tragic: The Israeli government seems to think it is safe-guarding the Jewish state, when in fact it promotes a bi-national state solution to be arrived at after years of discrimination and segregation of the worst kind. The people who promote this solution are ignoring, or perhaps ignorant of, the way such a solution is to be achieved: Through bloodshed and misery. And in between, the window of opportunity in which it is possible to reach an agreement for a two state solution is closing down, perhaps it’s already closed. Israel is hopping down the bunny trail all the way to South Africa.

IsraLeft Salvage: A pipe-dream, maybe, but not a nightmare

The last two of my posts on IsraLeft are also the two I am most proud of. It’s not that they’re perfect, or even that I still fully agree with what I said, but they reflect a sentiment I had and still have, and draw out my vision (which is in no way a unique one, of course) of how Israel can be a better state. Unfortunately, with the removal of the original site, the text to which this one responds will no longer be available, but I think the post stands on its own nonetheless. Rod has graciously allowed me to reprint his original post in this blog. It is linked below. Originally published November 17, 2009.

My friend Rod wrote at length against a binational solution to the Jewish-Palestinian conundrum. He does not so much oppose the idea of binationalism, but rather has serious doubts about the availability of a route to binational salvation that does not travel through some horrendous gutters. I disagree with him. A route to binationalism does exist that is more attractive than taking a detour through Apartheid and ethnic cleansing. This route, of course, is not very forthcoming, nor is it achievable through governments such as the current one – but then, neither is a viable two-state solution. The left must ask itself two questions: which is a more desirable solution, and which is a more likely solution to persuade the Israeli public to bring the left back to power to implement. Neither of these questions will be answered here. My intention here is merely to plot the road that might be taken to binationalism, under the ideal premise of a liberal-minded left-wing government.

It should be said, before I begin, that contrary to what Rod wrote, binationalism is rarely touted as the optimal solution to the problem – although I have noticed an uptick in texts carrying this message of late. The majority of mentions of binationalism use it as a threat, a whip, with which to hasten Israel’s acquiescence in a two-state solution. Binationalism is presented as the only realistic alternative to two-statism, and, building on the prevalent sentiment supporting a Jewish nation-state, the two-state solution is then made to look good in comparison. I personally deplore this line of argument. It exemplifies exactly what’s wrong with the two state solution: it is a solution built on virulent, hateful nationalism, rather than on mutual acceptance, and it ignores the fact that even after we “go our separate ways in peace”, as one popular bumper sticker once advocated, we still have one fifth of the population of Israel proper living in the “wrong” territory.

Binationalism is not merely unavoidable, but, I believe, desirable. Is it attainable?

The road to a viable binational solution must begin with a greater incorporation of the Arab citizens of Israel into the polity. The first step a prime minister with a wish to implement binationalism must do is call upon the more moderate Arab parties in the Knesset to join her government proper – not merely support it from the outside as in the second Rabin government.

The thing most lacking in current internal Jewish-Arab relations is trust. An Arab minister (from a “non-Zionist” party) would be able to begin building this trust, in both directions. Of course, having a token Arab minister would not suffice – it is merely pointing out the way for other government agencies. A higher rate of government employment of Arab-Israelis must follow. It is also assumed that an Arab minister will be able, by bringing the voice of this population directly into the cabinet meetings, to increase government investment in this population even beyond his own ministry’s jurisdiction (of course, we are assuming a government that is already more likely to do that anyway).

The Arab citizens of Israel are a bridgehead to the Palestinians in the territories. Establishing real bidirectional trust with that population will enable Israel to come into rapport with the Palestinians that was not possible so far. Throughout this process, and using it, Israel must support the democratic development of the Palestinian Authority and promote moderate deliberation within it (rather than prevent it, as in the case of the harassment of Mustafa Barghouti before the presidential elections).

If these processes are successful, and Israeli shows a continued willingness to follow this path (e.g., by reelecting the government), it seems to me that the road to a binational solution will be open. Of course, that solution must still be fashioned in a careful manner. The PhD thesis I am working on currently deals precisely with the question of the application of binational solutions, why they failed where they did and how they can succeed. I am still in early stages of this study, but my hunch so far is that the biggest mistake is to create an identity between the national interests of each group, and territorial interests of the administrative units of a federal state, e.g. the Belgian solution. A good binational state will make sure to break each national community into two (or more) territorial units. This will foster more opportunities for cross-cutting cleavages and cross-national interests. An “East” and “West Palestine” are simple enough to envision. Similarly, a “North” and “South Israel” can also be conceived. Each of the units will get equal representation in an upper-house (much like the US Senate), to create parity between the national communities regardless of demographics. (Jerusalem can be a fifth district, with no upper house representation, a-la Washington D.C., or Brussels).

In time, one could consider a “third layer” of federalism to this state (“The Abrahamic Federation”? Nah, too religious…), at the individual level – a “cultural federalism”. This layer could, for example, handle issues such as education and the arts, which will be shared across the administrative units, and also important for those of one nationality living in the units of the other (e.g., current Arab Israelis). This will also facilitate freer movement between the units.

But there is no need to go into the intricacies of the particular model of binationalism to be used. The point is that a well-meaning government can achieve this through positive means, rather than through diving into the realms of Hades to reemerge with the ghost of a binational state. The fact is, the first steps of this plan are positive even if we don’t wish to achieve a binational state, and — maybe I’m being overly optimistic here — could be potentially supported by a majority of the population in Israel even today.

The road is there. It isn’t the King’s Highway, nor a yellow-brick road. It is, if anything, a long and winding one, and an arduous one no doubt. But it is there, and I believe we should take it.

The Completionist News Consumer

I’ve always been kind of a half-assed completionist in video games. I want to see the game to the end, but I never felt the need to see every side quest, or collect every coin. My drive has always been to see the plot through – even when that plot wasn’t much to write home about.

But this need to see a plot through resulted in some strange behaviour when I started watching some television shows – if I first encountered a show late into the season, or sometimes even on the 2nd or 3rd seasons, I found it very hard to keep watching it unless I managed to get a copy of the first few episodes, if not everything that the show had to offer. It didn’t even have to be particularly good shows. I watched the Gilmore Girls from the pilot to somewhere in the fifth season, and similarly with Charmed. But the most extreme case, of course, was Doctor Who: I first encountered the show in Rose, the first episode of the revived show, but I quickly found out of its illustrious history, and felt I couldn’t really enjoy the show without familiarizing myself with it. So I watched An Unearthly Child and 100,000 BC and The Daleks, and then hit a wall in the form of the missing episodes. So I took a detour and watched the entire 6th and 7th doctors, then the 1996 TV movie, then the 5th doctor, then started watching the 4th doctor, but at about that time we moved to Canada and time became so much more limited, so I stopped somewhere in there. Of course, I also sprinkled a few extra classics from the first and second doctors, just to be on the safe side. So I have watched the majority of 30 years of Doctor Who.

Yep, I’m a completionist.

And here’s the snag: I’m also a completionist when it comes to politics. The idea of just starting to read the local papers and picking up on “the story” where-ever I found it seems completely impossible to me. It will mean that every name I will have to research to find out what they did, every event or place will have to be put in context in a manner that I just don’t have the time to do properly. Not to mention the opinion columns – how do I even judge those if I don’t really know anything?!

The end result, unfortunately, is that I rarely follow local politics. I still read Israeli news sites far more often than I consume Canadian news outlets — not to mention the blogs. After all, I have to see the plot through! I wish I could have a reader’s digest version of recent Canadian political history, or a Who’s Who that won’t put me to sleep. As an immigrant and a political scientist I feel an obligation to follow local politics, to know what’s going on around me rather than be steeped in what’s happening halfway across the globe. But my completionist impulses just won’t let me just into the story midway…

IsraLeft Salvage/Guest Post: A Different Kind of Terror

The following text was written by Maital Rozenboim on August 1, 2009, shortly after the shooting at the Tel-Aviv LGBT “Bar-Noar”. It is republished here, as part of my IsraLeft Slavage project, with her permission.

Something happened in Tel-Aviv tonight, a milestone in the delicate relationship between minority and majority, left and right, and whatever other classifications you may wish to use here. Tonight a man, and I use this word in its broader sense, walked into a basement room in Nahmani street in Tel-Aviv, a years-old location for meetings of the Israeli GLBT organization, in the middle of a youth support group meeting. This man did not wish to participate in this meeting. He did not wish to ‘out’ the members of this group, or disturb them. He wished something much more sinister – to murder them, and I lament to say he succeeded.

The latest update from this ongoing story speaks of 3 dead, 15 injured. A 17 years old girl and a 24 years old man are the first two victims, while details are still missing as to the third. The man was a counselor for this group – a man whose job was to speak to these youngsters, assist them with their troubles dealing with their sexual orientation. His job was to help them find order in their world, find themselves, whichever self that may be. It is sometimes claimed amongst conservatives or homophobic circles, that these meetings were meant to convince these children that they are, indeed, gay; That these groups were akin to missionaries, proselytizing, trying to lure children into the pleasures of gay sex. To those narrow minded men, I can give the story of my own experience. At 16 I was, just like these kids, confused about my sexual identity. I went to these sessions wondering what is it that I really wanted, and how to tell the world – my family, my friends – about it. After 6 months of sessions with one of these angels, I grew stronger, and more sure of myself. I date men, and that was entirely OK with my counselor, as long as it made me happy. I was never reproached for not ‘converting’. I was congratulated for supporting my friends in their choices. I was accepted for who I am, no matter what. Can you really say that about every youth movement?

And this justified, in the mind of this “man”, a death penalty.

The shooter is still at large. He was possibly seen unsuccessfully trying to continue this bloodbath in a gay club nearby, the Evita, but he fled the scene. Reports of how he looks vary, and his motives are as of yet unknown. Most agree this appears to be a hate crime, and some claim this must be a result of religious anti-gay propaganda. Israeli Rabbis have been known to blame anything from earthquakes to swine flu on on the Israeli GLBT community and on major cities holding Gay Pride Parades. They’ve voiced their opinions loud and clear on this subject, and the gay community did not forget. A spontaneous demonstration going on in Tel Aviv at the time this post is written carries signs saying “SHAS1, this blood is on your hands” and the gay community rages and weeps, for how bad things and gotten, and for the fallen.

I do not presume to be all-knowing regarding the future. The killer hasn’t yet been apprehended and for all we know, he could be an escaped mental patient from the nearest hospital. But those who know the place of the attack point out that it is an underground basement, that one must know where he’s heading to find it, that this was no random shooting. The gay community, along with most of the “gay friendly” community, is in a state of shock. The sentiment is that today, a line has been crossed, a line that should not have been crossed. This event feels like, and has been covered by the media as a terror attack. If this was indeed performed not by an Arab, as we are “used” to in terror attacks (and as almost no one considers probable), but by a Jew, one of our own, perhaps a religious one, certainly an anti-gay one – this is akin to a declaration of war. This is not something the sane Israeli public can pass by in silence. This is not something we can just forget about tomorrow and go on with our lives.

If I were a religious person, I’d pray now, that God please, please make the shooter be an escaped mental patient. Because I honestly don’t know how I can sleep peacefully knowing this is the country I live in, if not.

May the wounded quickly regain their health and the martyrs rest in peace.

  1. An Israeli ultra-orthodox conservative party []