Friday, June 11, 2010


Israel redefines “chutzpah”

by Larry Geller

My usual working definition of the popular Yiddish word “chutzpah” is: A man kills both his parents and then appeals to the judge for mercy because he is an orphan.”

That’s still the best I’ve seen, but Israel is coming up with its own definition. Because of its tight, damaging and illegal blockade of Gaza, the boycott Israel movement is gaining some steam around the world, and there is a separate boycott movement in the West Bank. So now a bill introduced in the Israeli parliament would force the Palestinian Authority to compensate Israel for its losses due to boycotts.

The Land of Israel, a right-wing parliamentary lobby group committed to Jewish settlement of the West Bank, submitted the bill with the support of 25 politicians from right wing and centrist parties. If approved, it could theoretically force the Palestinian Authority (PA) to pay thousands of dollars in compensation to Jewish businesses affected by the Fayyad-led boycott campaign, a scenario that would likely spark furious reaction from Palestinians.

The move comes amid a growing global backlash against Israeli policies, which has intensified since Israel launched its bloody raid on a Turkish-led humanitarian convoy trying to breach the blockade of the Gaza Strip.  [The Independent (UK), Israel plans to send bill to Palestinians over boycotts, 6/11/2010]

For more information on the worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, see the website for the Global BDS Movement. For an article on the boycott of goods made in the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, see Fayyad Challenges Israelis With Boycott of Settler-Made Goods (Bloomberg/Business Week, 6/11/2010).

It may be hard to find Israel-made products in Hawaii to boycott. One obvious target, not here yet, will be one of the darling electric vehicle projects embraced by Governor Lingle and DBEDT. Better Place is an Israeli company that will manufacture electric vehicles and charging stations to be used in Hawaii.

More about Better Place in this article. According to the article, Better Place has already installed charging stations at illegal settlements in the West Bank. Palestinians themselves are not even allowed to use those roads.

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I wonder when the Palestinians will be compensated? Israeli Gov. looks worse everyday.The anger toward them is growing!

Larry, you asked what Israeli products can be boycotted here in Hawaii. I'd like to ask another question. Where is the most effective target for picketing in protest of Israel's latest abuse?

I know people seem to use the Federal building, which means the message has to be re-directed. We are protesting the Federal government's uncritical support of, and collusion with, the Israeli government.

Maybe Temple Emmanuel is a more appropriate target for future picketing. The Temple serves as a nerve center for rallying support for Israel. So why is it not the proper site for expressing our anger at Israel's policies? It is not a bad location, plenty of visibility from the street. I think we have to force the local Jewish community to wrestle with the matter of Israel's immoral policies. We would not be targetting them as Jews, but as a base for pro-Israel activities.

I am perfectly content to enter into the kind of nuanced discussion such a demo will necessarily provoke about the difference between being Jewish and a Zionist.

I think it is time to take the fight to the Temple. If it makes people uncomfortable, all the better.

It is a problem, though. By protesting at a center for the religion it would appear to be protesting the religion, or the people who practice it. I agree that protesting at the Federal Building is not the best. It could indicated dissatisfaction with the US support of Israel's aggression etc., but I'm not sure what good any protest over there on any subject accomplishes.

What is best to do? Maybe people could get together on this. I don't know what is best, especially with so few things to boycott.

But Larry, most major temples are consciously used as organizing centers for building support for Israel's policies. It is not as if I am inventing this from a paranoid mindset. If the temples engage in such activities, they can surely take responsibility for their actions. I recognize that BOTH members of the general public and members of the synagogue might accuse such demonstrators of targeting them "as Jews," but why is it OK for the temples to train young Jews that they should identify with and support Israel "as Jews," but critics of Israel's policies are not allowed to challenge this conflation of "Jew" and "Zionist"?

Clearly, not all Jews are Zionist. In fact, many, perhaps MOST of the most active critics of Israeli policies in the US are Jewish. But that does not diminish the fact that the temple is the main locus of pro-Israel organizing in the state of Hawaii. And it makes it a much more suitable target for protests than the Federal Building when we want to criticize Israeli policies directly and not just criticize the US government for supporting those policies.

Frankly, I can't think of any religious center which has taken onto itself a similar role in serving as the unofficial representatives of another country, can you? If the temple sees itself as an advocate for Israel, why would it be a mistake for others to see them in the same light? Or should we give in to the "plausible deniability" they seek?

Since you express doubt about protests at the Federal Building, let me suggest protests outside the temple will provoke a lot of discussion about Israel, Jews and Zionism. Will some of that discussion be simpleminded and crude? Of course. On both sides. Does that mean the questions should be avoided? I'd hate to force members of the temple to feel any discomfort as they are forced to justify their support for Israel's policies. Or to have the uncomfortable discussions they work so hard to avoid, discussing, if only among themselves, the moral problems of Israel's policies. The temple should be a hotbed of such discussions instead of the stony silence and official boosterism that pervades there.

I don't feel I can argue strongly against what you are suggesting. I also don't know what goes on there. For sure, though, since accusations of "antisemitism" are leveled routinely against those who criticize Israel, that would certainly occur if a synagogue were picketed.

What we need is exactly the discussion you are providing here.

For one thing, I don't know what people might be talking about in there. Would picketing a synagogue help destroy any internal dialogue that might be happening? Speculation.

In following the news coverage of the flotilla massacre I noticed in particular the pictures of Hassidic Jews protesting in Toronto and several other places. I was surprised and pleased to see it.

What I think is happening now is that the flotilla is fading rapidly into the background, it's leaving the news and the public consciousness. It's also that while I think it is crucially important to world peace (settling the Israel/Palestine conflict), it is far from Hawaii.

Years ago I dreamed of a real peace center here (not the wimpy Matsunaga thing). Maybe Hawaii could come up with a roadmap for peace and get some attention. Something different from picketing or protest, though those remain important. Something new.

The raw brutality which Israel is demonstrating--most recently with the flotilla massacre but also with the whole blockade and with Operation Cast Lead earlier, taken with the entire history of relations with the Palestinian people, don't give me any hope that anyone in the world can easily change the course Israel has set for itself, though.

So protesting anywhere in Hawaii is not likely to be even noticed.

You see, I'm struggling to find something to do that might make a difference.

I fully agree we should be seeking a way to actually make a difference. I am not a big fan of demonstrations which appear motivated by a need to "vent" or to hope that St. Peter (or maybe "History") will note you are on the side of righteousness.

I think a key (I almost wrote "THE key") to changing US policy on the I-P conflict lies within the Jewish community. It is a ("the"?) lynchpin in determining what policy is allowed. Indeed, what discussion ABOUT policy is allowed to occur in "polite society." (Another "lynchpin" is in the rightwing fundamentalist churches, who want to strengthen Israel as a precondition for the thee Second Coming, Armageddon and, [incidentally] all Jews who don't convert to Christianity. [Nice allies!] I suspect I will have a better chance appealing to Jewish rationalism and humanism than to Christian crackpots, though YMMV).

WOuld demonstrations outside the temple shut down an ongoing internal discussion or make it more necessary? Everything I have learned in my years of community organizing says it is necessary to "force the question" or people will continue to evade their responsibilities.

Please note, I am NOT saying it is only American Jews who bear responsibility for Israel's brutal brutal policies. I AM saying it is an obvious, and appropriate pressure point which can help "force the question", not just within the Jewish community, but in the broader community. I would LOVE to have people driving by get into a discussion whether it is "fair" to picket the temple in response to Israel's behavior. Whichever answer the public comes to, that discussion will be helpful in moving forward people's attention to and understanding of, Israeli repression of the Palestinians.

Sorry, Larry. I was having difficulty writing my comments. Entire passages were not appearing. Let me insert some of the words which were omitted. I tried to write:

(Another "lynchpin" is in the rightwing fundamentalist churches, who want to strengthen Israel as a precondition for the the Second Coming, Armageddon and, [incidentally], the casating into Eternal Hellfire all Jews who don't convert to Christianity. [Nice allies!] I suspect I will have a better chance appealing to Jewish rationalism and humanism than to Christian crackpots, though YMMV).

It is a tragic irony that Zionists rely for political support upon genuine anti-semites on the Christian Right--those who choose to believe that Jews as Jews DESERVE eternal damnation simply for being Jews. But at least, they "support" Israel!

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