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Archive for the ‘Israel-Palestine’ Category

That’s the title (in English) of a two-hour (French) documentary on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to 1967, directed by Blanche Finger and the well-known documentary filmmaker William Karel, that aired in two parts on ARTE last week (part 1 on the 1897-1948 period, part 2 from 1948 to ’67). As Le Monde gave it a good review over three-quarters of a page, I thought I’d maybe check it out, though as I’ve seen countless documentaries on the subject, plus read a few books and generally kept up with it over the past fifty-odd years, I didn’t bother. But then I received an email from a faithful AWAV reader here in France, who asked if I had seen it and said that he had, informing me that he “was impressed beyond [his] expectations,” adding that he “thought [he] knew already ‘pas mal’ and…learned a lot.” Tiens.

So following his recommendation, I watched it on the ARTE website, where it may be viewed here (or here) through June 22nd. At a mere two hours, a documentary covering seven decades of such a complex conflict will necessarily be superficial in parts and give short-shrift to key historical moments—when not eliding them altogether—but I thought it well done, politically well-balanced, and with impressive archival footage. What is particularly good, though, is the interviews—with historians, journalists, and intellectuals—that intersperse the narrative (and with voice-over translation). It’s an A-list of interviewees. On the Israeli side are Elie Barnavi, Shlomo Sand, Gadi Taub, Hiam Gouri, Anita Shapira, Dina Porat, Nurit Peled-Elhanen, Amira Hass, and Gideon Levy. They’re somewhat skewed in political orientation, as all are liberal or mainstream Zionists, with the exception of Sand, Hass, and Levy, who are non- or anti-Zionist. No one from the revisionist Zionist camp or clearly on the political right. As for the Palestinians, one hears Sari Nusseibeh, Raja Shehadeh, Elias Sanbar, and Amneh Badran. I wasn’t familiar with the last one but the first three are well-known (and invariably impressive).

I’m not going to launch into a detailed discussion or critique of the documentary here, but will just comment on a few points that struck me. One was the underscoring of the leadership of Amin al-Husseini—the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem—in the Palestinian national movement during the mandate era, and of his collaboration with the Nazis during the war. This is a well-known story, of course—though Palestinians understandably don’t like to talk about it and/or downplay the role played by the Mufti, portraying him as a secondary figure—but it was salutary of Finger and Karel to linger on it for a couple of minutes, and to specify that the Mufti’s engagement with the Nazis was not merely circumstantial but also ideological—that he identified with the Nazis’ goals, was a virulent antisemite, had a privileged relationship with Himmler and Eichmann, and was ready to participate with the latter in an implementation of the Final Solution in an eventual German occupation of Palestine. Pas glorieux pour les Palestiniens.

Second comment. In discussing the Nakba, Elias Sanbar contextualized the relative indifference of Europeans at the time to the images of Palestinian refugees in tents, correctly observing that the European continent was already coping with millions of refugees and displaced persons, not to mention the material destruction of the war, the collapse of economies, and you name it. Given what Europe had just been through—not to mention the Jews themselves—what is now called the Nakba just didn’t seem like that big of a deal (which I discussed in a previous post).

Third comment. On the displacement of the Palestinians in 1948, the narrator says that “la communauté internationale évite de s’intéresser aux réfugiés qui errent sans savoir où y aller.” Apart from the fact that the majority of Palestinian refugees were, in fact, internally displaced persons inside Palestine—and not refugees stricto sensu—this statement is untrue. The United Nations created an agency, UNRWA, in 1949 that was dedicated specifically to the Palestinians—and with an infrastructure and funding that turned the Palestinians into what was surely the most privileged refugee population in history. As for a political solution to their plight, repatriation was off the table—and particularly after the collapse of the Lausanne Conference—leaving as the only alternative integration into the countries, and with full rights of citizenship, where the refugees happened to find themselves—but which all the states, with the qualified exception of Jordan, refused. There wasn’t much the rest of the “international community” could do about this.

Fourth comment. Amneh Badran mentions the 750,000 Palestinians who were “expelled” before, during, and after 1948. This is inaccurate, as we know that the majority of Palestinians—on the order of 60-65%—who left their homes took flight—out of fear or for other reasons—and were not driven out at the point of a bayonet. But further along, Dina Porat talks about the 830,000 Jews (her number) who were “expelled” from Arab countries. One reads and hears this a lot from Israelis and their supporters but it is utterly untrue. Moreover, it’s a falsehood. In point of fact, Jews were not “expelled” from any Arab country. There were indeed anti-Jewish riots and acts of violence in certain ones but no outright expulsion. Let’s go down the list:

  • Yemen: The documentary has images of impoverished Yemeni Jews airlifted to Israel 1949—and who were viewed by Ashkenazis as being even more “backward” than the Arabs. But that’s just it: it was an airlift authorized by the Yemeni authorities, not an expulsion.
  • Iraq: The large Jewish population—which had been subjected to pogroms and violence—was not allowed to leave in 1948. In 1951 the Iraqi state reversed itself and allowed Jews a one-way ticket out—and with the stripping of Iraqi citizenship and spoliation of their property—and that the majority understandably took in view of the circumstances, but they weren’t obliged to.
  • Syria: The small Jewish community was not allowed to leave before 1991. For the anecdote, I remember the Jewish-owned clothing and other stores in the modern center of Damascus—identifiable from the mezuzahs on the doors—on my first visit there in 1985. A couple of Jewish-American friends who visited the city in the same decade went looking for Jews in the quarter adjacent to the Souk Al-Hamidiyah, found some families, and forged friendly contact. Those families are surely now all in Israel or the US. Can’t blame them for taking that one-way ticket.
  • Lebanon: The small Jewish community in Beirut emigrated during the civil war (1975-90), along with many thousands of other Lebanese.
  • Egypt: The Jews here were particular in the Arab world, as the majority—on the order of 80%—were not indigenous to the country, having migrated to Egypt in the mid-late 19th century from lands along the Mediterranean. Jews were shown the door beginning in 1948—which was naturally stoked by anti-Israel sentiment and, not insignificantly, by the antisemitism of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was an important force—but along with other diaspora populations (notably Greeks and Italians), all viewed as foreigners by Egyptians.
  • Libya: The situation of the Jews was pretty bad, so when they were allowed to emigrate in 1949, most packed their bags. But it was not an expulsion.
  • The Maghreb: Not a single Jew was expelled from Morocco, where the sizable Jewish population began religiously motivated aliyah to Israel in 1948, and which was organized surreptitiously by the Jewish Agency after 1956 and through the 1960s, as explicit departure for Israel was not allowed. Tunisia: the bulk of the Jewish population emigrated from 1956 through ’67, roughly half to France, half to Israel. In the case of Algeria, most of the 135,000 Jews, who were full French citizens—though indigenous to Algeria in their totality—left in the mass exodus of Europeans in the final chaotic months of Algérie française. They and the pieds-noirs were fearful, rightly or wrongly, and fled to France. It was their choice. No one told them to leave.

Conclusion: It would be nice if Israelis and others would stop going on about Jews having been “expelled” from Arab countries in 1948 and after, because they weren’t.

Fifth comment. In his email, the faithful AWAV reader mentioned the “six-day war hoax,” referring to the part of the documentary on 1967, which described the sabre-rattling by neighboring Arab states—particularly Egypt—the supposed fear of the Israeli government and IDF high command that Israel’s existence was threatened by the massing of Egyptian troops in the Sinai—on Israel’s “Auschwitz borders”—and that provoked the Israeli preventive strike on June 5th. But as the documentary goes on to reveal, the Israeli military and political leadership knew full well that the Arab states posed no military threat, that Nasser did not want war and tried to avoid it, and that Israel’s existence was in no way threatened, but that the Israelis decided to attack their neighbors anyway, with the aim of seizing and annexing territory.

That the Israeli leadership exaggerated the Egyptian military threat and was confident of victory in the event of war is well understood. But this does not mean the whole thing was a hoax. Nasser did, after all, order the UN troops out of the Sinai and he did close the straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, which was itself a casus belli. But, above all, there was the drumbeat of blood-curdling rhetoric coming out of Egypt—some of which was broadcast in Hebrew directly to Israelis—which the documentary shows. So one sees fanaticized Egyptians chanting, as the subtitles render it, “Nasser, nous sommes tous avec toi! Nous allons tous les exterminer, les brûler, les égorger jusqu’au dernier!” The threats to “exterminate Israel,” throw the Jews into the sea, and the like were heard by all Israelis in the run-up to the war. One could hardly expect a people who had experienced genocide a mere two decades earlier to brush off such calls to mass murder. If the Egyptians were asking Israel to attack them, they couldn’t have done a better job. As Elie Barnavi—une vraie voix de sagesse—put it in speaking to the apparent confidence of the IDF on the eve of the ’67 war, “Nous ne l’avons pas vécu comme ça, ni la population, ni l’armée, et certainement pas les politiciens. Il y avait eu vraiment un moment d’angoisse. La guerre était inévitable, et elle ne s’est pas déroulée comme on imaginait, parce que Hussein est entré dans ce cercle vicieux…” Indeed, if King Hussein had not placed his army under Egyptian command and then launched an unprovoked artillery barrage on West Jerusalem, the 1967 war would have resembled the one in 1956, so Barnavi asserts, involving only Egypt; but Jordan’s entry transformed it into a regional war, resulting in the fateful occupation of the West Bank. Hélas.

ARTE also broadcast last week a one-hour documentary by Finger and Karel, “Histoires d’Israël,” consisting of interviews with ten leading Israeli writers—Amos Oz, David Grossman, Avraham B. Yehoshua, Alona Kimhi, Meir Shalev, Zeruya Shalev, Eshkol Nevo, Etgar Keret, Benny Barbash, and Ronit Matalon (who died this past December, at age 58)—reflecting on their country. My faithful AWAV reader sent a follow-up email on this one, writing: “Great people. Exemplary ethics. Lucidity and bravery. Especially the women. This film almost brought tears in my eyes.” I agree. It may be viewed on the ARTE website here (or here) through June 23rd.

On this general topic, the American-Israeli historian Martin Kramer has an article in Mosaic magazine, dated April 2nd, on “The May 1948 vote that made the State of Israel,” in which he reveals, entre autres, that the Peoples Administration—the proto-cabinet of the Israeli government-to-be, headed by David Ben Gurion—voted on May 12, 1948, i.e. two days before the proclamation of the State of Israel, not to officially recognize the borders in the 1947 UN partition plan as definitive. In other words, the Zionist leadership decided right off the bat that Israel would not have fixed borders, that its borders would be whatever territory it could conquer and subsequently annex. This would seem obvious in view of Israel’s behavior over the past seventy years but, as Kramer documents, the reason it is so is because it was explicitly debated and decided in a formal vote by the Zionist leadership.

I’ll certainly have more on all this before too long.

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By United Kingdom Government, signed by Arthur Balfour (Public Domain)

[update below] [2nd update below]

I hadn’t intended to mark yesterday’s centennial of the Balfour Declaration, as I have nothing in particular to say about it. And not being a Jew, and thus neither a Zionist nor anti-Zionist, I do not have personal or identitarian sentiments on the matter. As for the Palestinians, one may understand their collective view of Balfour, though without sympathizing with their fixation on the Declaration a century after the fact—e.g. the laughably absurd demand that the British issue an apology—as if the Balfour Declaration could possibly be abrogated or reversed—and which, in any case, did not ineluctably lead to the Nakba or other future calamities that befell the Palestinians (or which they brought upon themselves, as the case may be).

I did come across one essay, in the Financial Times, by the historian Simon Schama on Balfour and the birth of Israel, which I think is worth reading. Schama mentions, among other things, the predicament of the Jews caught between the Austro-Hungarian and Russian armies in the final years of the First World War, and then caught between the Whites and Red Army in the Russian civil war that followed. If there was ever an argument for the necessity of a Jewish homeland, it was then, precisely when the Declaration was issued.

France was a good country for Jews at the time—Glücklich wie Gott in Frankreich—then was not twenty-five years later, and then became so again. The situation nowadays is complex. Institutionally and with the larger society, there is no problem, but for many Jews in everyday life, it is getting worse, as detailed in the headline story in Le Monde dated today: “En France, l’antisémitisme ‘du quotidien’ s’est ancré et se propage.” The lede: “Insultes, intimidations, violences physiques, tags… Des juifs racontent des agressions devenues banales et qui se multiplient depuis 2000.” Jews, particularly in the Paris banlieue, are increasingly subjected to intimidation, including physical, in public space and even in their homes, for the sole fact of being Jews. As for the perpetrators, they are, as always, lumpen youths of post-colonial immigrant origin. It is an outrageous situation, which, for the present moment at least, is overwhelming the public authorities and the Jewish community itself.

Adding to the outrage, one learns that the stele of Ilan Halimi in Bagneux—the banlieue where he was sequestered and tortured for three weeks in the winter of 2006, in the most horrific antisemitic crime in France since the Second World War to that date—was profaned in the early hours of November 1st (and not for the first time). Now I am opposed to the death penalty but would maybe make an exception for the perpetrators of such a heinous act, as they deserve no less—or, better yet, that they be subjected to the same calvaire as was Halimi at the hands of the gang des barbares.

On this subject, a feature-length film, Tout, tout de suite (in English: Everything Now), directed by the well-known actor/director/screenwriter Richard Berry, was released in May 2016. It was the second film on Ilan Halimi and the gang des barbares, the first being Alexandre Arcady’s 24 Days, which came out two years prior and on which I had a blog post at the time. Arcady’s film was recounted from the perspective of Ilan’s mother, Ruth, and focused on the police investigation. Berry’s version, though, reenacted what happened to Ilan and in excruciating detail. To call it a horror film is almost an understatement. The Youssouf Fofana character (actor Steve Achiepo) was the most terrifying sadistic psychopath I’d seen on the big screen since Javier Bardem in the Coen Brothers’ ‘No Country for Old Men’. I was originally going to include Berry’s film in my post on recent French films on terrorism, because a terrorist act it was. The pic is almost impossible to watch at points, with the violence, sadism of the gang des barbares, and knowing what is going to happen. It was no doubt for this reason that the film was an utter, total box office failure. It sold some 16,000 tickets, i.e., next to nothing, before vanishing from the salles. I saw it on the first Friday night after it opened, at the MK2 Bibliothèque multiplex. There were maybe a dozen people in the theater. Now much of the target audience would, for religious reasons, not have gone to the cinema that night, but Jews—who were traumatized by what happened to Ilan Halimi—clearly decided in their totality that they really didn’t need to spend two hours watching a nice young Jewish man be tortured to death by lowlife antisemitic dregs, and for the sole crime of being Jewish. Conclusion: Richard Berry should have never made the film in the first place.

Ilan Halimi is buried in Jerusalem, as his family knew that, in France, his tombstone would be under permanent threat of profanation. Given what happened to the stele the other day, their fears were well-founded.

UPDATE: Joann Sfar—the well-known comic artist, novelist, and film director—in linking to the Le Monde article mentioned above, offered this commentary on his Facebook page

Je ne sais pas si on se le raconte aussi clairement mais les tueries de Merah ont marqué un tournant dont la façon dont la communauté juive parle des agressions. Avant ce drame, chacun avait à coeur de faire connaître les agressions lorsqu’elles avaient lieu. Depuis, c’est l’inverse. Pour une raison simple: On a découvert que chaque attaque suscitait des vocations. Je voudrais qu’on rappelle les messages anonymes infects qu’a reçue l’école Ozar Hatorah après les massacres. Je me souviens que le carré juif du cimetière de Nice, celui où repose ma mère, a été profané quelques jours après. On se souvient, tous, enfin, que ces tueries ont été le point de départ d’une recrudescence de ces violences antijuives. Donc oui, de plus en plus, lorsqu’ils rentrent chez eux le pardessus recouvert de crachats, les juifs religieux ferment leurs gueules. Et les juifs qui n’ont pas l’air juifs ne savent plus comment se planquer. On leur a dit que les écoles publiques n’étaient plus pour eux. On ne compte plus ces réunions honteuses durant lesquelles des chefs d’établissements annoncent officieusement aux familles qu’il vaudrait mieux scolariser les enfants ailleurs. Puis il y a eu Merah et les écoles privées sont devenues elles aussi un lieu de danger. Depuis deux ans ce sont les agressions aux domiciles, qui se multiplient. Pourquoi mes mots? Pour insister sur le fait que contrairement à ce que croient trop de gens, les juifs ne passent pas leur temps à dénoncer, ou à pleurnicher. Au contraire. Sur ces affaires, la plupart des victimes ferment leurs gueules, se font le plus petites possibles, en espérant que l’orage passe, pour ne pas donner des idées à d’autres salopards. Il ne va pas passer, l’orage. Tout le monde a très bien compris. Qu’est-ce qu’on doit faire? Chaque réponse qui me vient me donne envie de me cogner la tête contre un mur. Je n’ose plus dire aux victimes que je croise que “la solution est l’éducation”. Si je dis ça je prends une baffe. Ce n’est pas aux victimes de faire quelque chose ou de trouver des solutions.

2nd UPDATE: Martin Kramer, for whom I have high regard as a historian of the Middle East, has two articles in Mosaic Magazine, dated June 5th and 28th: “The forgotten truth about the Balfour Declaration” and “The Balfour Declaration was more than the promise of one nation.”

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[update below] [2nd update below]

Emmanuel Macron gave a powerful speech last Sunday, on the 75th anniversary of the Rafle du Vél’ d’Hiv, in which—following François Hollande’s equally powerful speech of 2012—he reaffirmed the responsibility of the French state in one of the greatest crimes committed on French soil on a single day in the modern era. Macron’s words were, among other things, a pointed jab at Marine Le Pen, who, in the final phase of the presidential campaign, mouthed the now thoroughly discredited notion that the French state bore no responsibility for the roundup of Jews in France during the German occupation—and which was astonishingly repeated by Jean-Luc Mélenchon—and to his discredit—in an anti-Macron broadside after the event.

Macron’s otherwise excellent speech did, however, contain one sentence—a single word, in fact—that has caused a storm of indignation and polemics on social media—and biting critiques by gauchistes and other tiersmondistes—which was the equating of anti-Zionism with antisemitism: “Alors oui, nous ne céderons rien aux messages de haine, nous ne céderons rien à l’antisionisme car il est la forme réinventée de l’antisémitisme” [emphasis on the definite article “la”]. (N.B. The official English translation of Macron’s speech does not accurately translate the phrase in question.)

Now it is incontestable that “Zionist” has become a code word for “Jew” on the far right and the gauche rouge-brune, not to mention among Arabs, Muslims, and all sorts of other people, and that those who use it as such are indeed antisemites. Ça va de soi. À propos, the Irish Marxist writer-militant Richard Seymour had a well-informed essay in the très gauchiste Jacobin webzine, dated August 8th 2014, on “The anti-Zionism of fools,” in which he wrote that “[h]owever distorted and exaggerated, antisemitism [cloaked as anti-Zionism] is a real current in France that needs to be confronted.” But to assert—as Macron appeared to do—that everyone who calls him/herself an anti-Zionist is ipso facto a Jew-hater is not only empirically false but dangerous. It is also bullshit.

Zionism needs to be defined, of course, and what it means to be opposed to it. The fact is, many, if not most, people out there who casually say they’re anti-Zionist don’t actually know what Zionism is. If the question is put to them—and I have done so on numerous occasions over the years, particularly to Maghrebi friends—the response is usually framed as opposition to the occupation and all the bad things Israel does. The understanding of the term is, to put it mildly, not informed.

As for what Zionism does in fact mean, the Israeli writer A.B. Yehoshua offered, in a 2013 tribune in Haaretz, a succinct definition

A Zionist is a person who [prior to 1948] desires or supports the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, which in the future will become the state of the Jewish people. This is based on what Herzl said: “In Basel I founded the Jewish state.”

The key word in this definition is “state,” and its natural location is the Land of Israel because of the Jewish people’s historical link to it. (…)

A Zionist, therefore, is a Jew who supported the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, and not necessarily one who actually settled in the land. Herzl himself and many Zionist leaders never settled in the land, yet you wouldn’t hesitate to call them Zionists.

Yehoshua specifies

Zionism is not an ideology. If the definition of ideology, according to the Hebrew Encyclopedia, is as follows − “A cohesive, systematic combination of ideas, insights, principles and imperatives that finds expression in the particular worldview of a sect, a party or a social class” − then Zionism cannot be considered an ideology, but merely a very broad platform for various ideologies that may even contradict one another.

Ever since the State of Israel was founded in 1948, the definition of “Zionist” has been revised, since we don’t need to establish another state. Therefore, its definition is as follows: A Zionist is a person who accepts the principle that the State of Israel doesn’t belong solely to its citizens, but to the entire Jewish people. The practical expression of this commitment is the Law of Return. (…)

According to Yehoshua’s definition of what it means to be a “Zionist” today—to which I have no particular objection—a certain number of Jews themselves—American, French, etc, who are, for the most part, on the left—would have to call themselves anti-Zionists, as they do not consider that Israel belongs to them—at least any more than it should to a diaspora Palestinian—that Israel should indeed belong only to its citizens, but which includes the 20% of the Israeli population that is not Jewish. The suggestion that a Jew—or, say, a Palestinian citizen of Israel—who feels strongly that Israel should be a state only for its actual citizens—with all enjoying exactly the same rights and duties, regardless of confession—is, ipso facto, an antisemite is not only preposterous but also libelous. This kind of demagogic accusation only discredits the person making it.

The journalist Sylvain Cypel—formerly of Le Monde and who lived in Israel for most of his formative years, including university—has a pointed response to Macron in the Orient XXI webzine, “Non, l’antisionisme n’est pas un antisémitisme réinventé.” The key passage:

Quant au fond, l’assimilation de l’antisionisme à une nouvelle mouture de l’antisémitisme est une erreur funeste. Cette assertion est l’une des clefs de voûte depuis des décennies de la hasbara, la communication israélienne. Et plus Israël s’enfonce dans la domination coloniale d’un autre peuple, les Palestiniens, plus l’assertion «antisionisme égal antisémitisme» est répétée pour stigmatiser quiconque critique cette domination.

En soi, la méthode consistant à délégitimer la critique en démonisant son auteur est vieille comme la politique. Ainsi Joseph Staline et ses émules assimilaient-ils toute critique du communisme soviétique à du «fascisme». Si les fascistes étaient viscéralement anticommunistes, cela ne faisait pas de tous les contempteurs du régime soviétique des fascistes. Mais les staliniens continuaient à vilipender leurs adversaires, sans distinction, sous ce vocable infamant. Aujourd’hui, un Robert Mugabe, au Zimbabwe, qualifie régulièrement ses adversaires de «défenseurs de l’apartheid». Que des racistes patentés figurent parmi les dénonciateurs de l’autocrate zimbabwéen est évident. Mais que tous soient des nostalgiques de la ségrégation raciale est une accusation délirante et dérisoire. On pourrait multiplier les exemples.

Il en va de même de l’idée selon laquelle l’antisionisme serait la version moderne de l’antisémitisme. D’abord parce que l’antisionisme n’est pas une idéologie très définie. Historiquement, il a consisté à récuser l’idée d’une solution nationaliste à la question juive. Aujourd’hui, il y a en Israël des gens qui se disent antisionistes par simple hostilité à une occupation des Palestiniens menée au nom même du sionisme. D’autres se disent «post-sionistes» parce qu’à leurs yeux, l’ambition du sionisme étant la constitution d’un État juif, son existence annule d’autorité la nécessité du sionisme. Je connais enfin des Israéliens tout à fait sionistes qui sont si révulsés par la politique de Nétanyahou qu’ils se disent honorés d’être traités d’«antisionistes» par un gouvernement d’extrême droite raciste et colonialiste. Ces derniers remplissent par exemple les rangs d’une ONG comme Breaking the Silence, qui regroupe des soldats dénonçant les crimes commis par leur armée contre des Palestiniens et dont plusieurs des dirigeants sont des officiers et aussi des juifs pieux. Ils ne sont pas antisémites. Ils sont même l’honneur d’Israël. Quant à moi, je considère le sionisme comme une question philosophiquement désuète. En revanche, si le sionisme, comme le prône Nétanyahou, consiste à exiger la reconnaissance d’Israël pour mieux empêcher le droit des Palestiniens à l’autodétermination, alors je suis antisioniste. Serais-je donc antisémite?

So if Netanyahu and others on the Israeli right define Zionism as giving Jews the right to settle anywhere in Eretz Israel—i.e. in Judea and Samaria—does this mean that those who oppose such settlement are antisemites?

The Israeli historian Shlomo Sand, in a “Lettre ouverte à M. le Président de la République française,” published in Mediapart, rhetorically asked if Macron, “[l]’ancien étudiant en philosophie, l’assistant de Paul Ricœur a-t-il si peu lu de livres d’histoire, au point d’ignorer que nombre de juifs, ou de descendants de filiation juive se sont toujours opposés au sionisme sans, pour autant, être antisémites?” My dear friend Adam Shatz, in a social media commentary on Sand’s letter, remarked

on the unfortunate and tendentious conflation of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in Macron’s otherwise admirable Vel d’Hiv address. Sand eviscerates Macron’s claims, but the pièce de résistance is his remark that thanks to Israel’s self-definition as the state of the Jewish people (not of the people – even the Jews! – who live in it), the state belongs far more to diaspora Jews like BHL and Alain Finkielkraut than it does to Sand’s Israeli-Palestinian students, whose Hebrew in some cases is better than his!

To oppose such ethno-racial exclusion inside Israel, as well as the apartheid in the Occupied Territories, is hardly to engage in anti-Semitic discrimination, much less call for the “destruction” of Israel or the Jews. (This is a well known Zionist canard, which curiously asks us to imagine that without such discrimination, the state itself would crumble: so much for the dream of “normalizing” the Jews in a modern nation-state.) Rather, to critique actually existing Zionism is to oppose discrimination, racism and oppression, which, outside Israel (and among a dwindling number of Israeli Jews), has been a venerable Jewish tradition. As Sand points out, some of the finest members of this dissenting tradition have been French: Pierre Vidal-Naquet, Maxime Rodinson, Esther Benbassa, Daniel Bensaïd, Rony Brauman. If the new French president, justly praised for his intellect, thinks anti-Zionism is simply the contemporary form of anti-Semitism (which is not to say it never is), and if he thinks he’s combating anti-Semitism by cozying up to the likes of Netanyahu (who is all too happy to cover for Hungarian Jew haters sympathetic to Israel), he still has a lot of learning to do.

An AWAV friend—a secular French Jew who would no doubt refer to himself as non- or anti-Zionist—pointed to one possible unintended consequence of Macron’s words, which is its implication for France’s hate speech laws, notably the 1972 Loi Pleven:

Puisque antisionisme = antisémitisme, il sera donc désormais illégal en France de critiquer publiquement le sionisme et tout particulièrement d’émettre des réserves sur les pratiques des défenseurs du sionisme tel que mis en œuvre actuellement en marge du droit international par l’état d’Israël, au hasard et par exemple le développement constant des colonies en Cisjordanie occupée. Critiquer cela équivaut peu ou prou à tenir des propos antisémites.

Then there was the very presence of Netanyahu at the Vel’ d’Hiv commemoration. I initially chalked this up to diplomacy and realpolitik, as an astute maneuver by Macron to cultivate a relationship with the Israeli PM (as he did with Putin and Trump). But the symbolism of Bibi at the ceremony was difficult to swallow for many—president Reuven Rivlin would have been more palatable—and particularly the place of honor of the Israeli flag. The Rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv is a French (and German) story, not an Israeli one. It has nothing to do with Israel (which of course did not exist at the time). There was, objectively speaking, no good reason to invite any high Israeli dignitary to the event. Now Macron could have perhaps justified the Netanyahu invitation if this would eventually yield diplomatic dividends. But as we were reminded during his visit to Hungary last week, Netanyahu couldn’t care less about France or the European Union, both of which he disdains. The notion that France can exercise any influence over Israel when it comes to the “peace process” is the height of naïveté. So rolling out the red carpet for Bibi last Sunday was ill-advised on Macron’s part.

C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire, pour le moment au moins.

UPDATE: Emmanuel Macron, prior to the anti-Zionist/antisemitism brouhaha, got into hot water on social media for his words at the G20 press conference in Hamburg, on July 8th, in which he made a remark on the fertility rate in Africa that rubbed people the wrong way, including well-known specialists of the continent. Some on social media even went so far as call Macron a “racist” and with others comparing what he said in Hamburg with Nicolas Sarkozy’s notorious 2007 Dakar speech. As for the latter, it was precisely that: a text written by Sarkozy’s top political adviser and that Sarkozy presumably read over before delivering. What Macron said at the G20 was extemporaneous. He was responding to a question at a press conference from an Ivorian journalist about development aid to Africa and who mentioned the Marshall Plan, and with Macron responding as to why the Marshall Plan parallel is not an appropriate one for Africa today (watch it here, from 25:26). He would have no doubt rephrased what he said about African demography if he had had advance knowledge of the question—and perhaps not pronounced the word “civilisationnel“—but the fact of the matter is, nothing Macron said, substantively-speaking, was ill-considered or wrong. To call him “racist” is so ridiculous as to not merit a response. And what he said cannot be compared to Sarkozy’s Dakar speech. Case closed.

Watching Macron at the press conference, one is struck by how smart, knowledgeable, and well-spoken he is. The total, 180° opposite of his counterpart outre-Atlantique, ça va de soi.

2nd UPDATE: Jacobin magazine has published (August 2nd) an English translation of Shlomo Sand’s “open letter to Emmanuel Macron.”

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In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War—which is coming up in ten days—I am linking to a terrific essay I just read (h/t Michel Persitz), “The Tallest Man in Ramallah,” by the American novelist Michael Chabon, on his roaming the West Bank with the Palestinian-American businessman Sam Bahour. Numerous articles will be appearing over the coming weeks taking stock of Israel’s fifty-year-long stranglehold over the Palestinian territories—of its insidiousness but also absurdity—but Chabon’s will surely stand out as one of the best. It is posted here on the Literary Hub website and will appear in the book Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation, edited by Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, that will be published on May 30th by Harper Collins.

UPDATE: If one missed it, Raja Shehadeh had a must-read op-ed in the NYT (May 20th), “Life behind Israel’s checkpoints.”

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shimon-peres-in-sderot-2014_photo-by-menahem-kahana-afp-getty-images

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I hadn’t intended to write an R.I.P. post on him, as I didn’t have anything in particular to say. I had a generally positive view of him during the ’80s and particularly into the ’90s and Oslo, viewing him as a man of peace and all that—I was initially taken in by his overhyped vision of a “new Middle East”—but changed my view in 1996 with Operation Grapes of Wrath and the Qana massacre. I could never have sentiments of sympathy toward Shimon Peres after that—and particularly after he blew the ’96 election, turning what should have been an easy win in the aftermath of the Rabin assassination into a defeat at the hands of the ghastly Bibi Netanyahu. Grapes of Wrath was all for naught, as was the assassination of Yahya Ayyash—which Peres ordered and for manifestly electoralist reasons—which triggered the wave of Hamas revenge terror attacks, thereby causing the Israeli electorate to lurch right. Peres could have waited for a more opportune moment to give Ayyash his just desserts. Hélas.

If Peres had won the ’96 election, would the Oslo peace process have culminated in a final status agreement? Likely not. Peres did head the Israeli delegation at the Taba talks in January 2001, during which the Israelis made unprecedented concessions, but there was no follow-up and with the outlines of an agreement discussed at Taba rejected by Yasser Arafat and received coolly by Ehud Barak. The two sides were too far apart—the best deal the Israelis could have offered the Palestinians was not one they would accept—so the final status negotiations were doomed to fail, regardless of the identity of the Israeli prime minister.

In lieu of going on with my thoughts, I will link to worthwhile commentaries on Peres I’ve read over the past few days. A particularly interesting one is by Uri Avnery, “The Saga of Sisyphus,” posted on his Gush Shalom website four days before Peres’s death. Peres and Avnery were the same age—born 39 days apart—and both arrived in Israel at age 10—Avnery from Germany, Peres from Poland—and met for the first time at age 30. Avnery knew Peres well and for over sixty years. And he didn’t like him too much, though, in his telling, not many people did. Lots of good stuff in his piece.

One episode Avnery gets in to is Peres’s close relationship with France during the 1950s. This is a well-known story here, where Peres was always respected and received as a friend, and by both the left—the PS and Israeli Labor Party being fraternal members of the Socialist International—and the right. And his spoken French wasn’t bad—something that is always appreciated here—though he had forgotten how to conjugate verbs, as I noted in the early ’90s during one of his television interviews. I think he did his interviews in Hebrew after that one…

Other remembrances:

Gershom Gorenberg in The American Prospect, “The Reinventor: Which Shimon Peres will be remembered depends on what his successors do.”

Adam Garfinkle on the Foreign Policy Research Institute website, “Shimon Peres (1923-2016): A man of contradictions?”

Aaron David Miller on the CNN website, “Why Israel will miss Shimon Peres.”

And these commentaries:

Akiva Eldar in Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse, “Fulfilling vision of Peres requires dismantling settlements.”

Lisa Goldman in +972, “The subtle nuances of Obama’s eulogy for Shimon Peres.”

Gideon Levy in Haaretz, “Shimon Peres, outsider who wanted so much to be loved.”

Leila Shahid offers a perspective from the Palestinian peace camp in an interview in L’Obs, “‘Shimon Peres a aussi contribué à tuer le camp de la paix’.” Curious view, as Shahid reproaches Peres for having abandoned the cause of peace by serving as Ariel Sharon’s foreign minister in 2001-02—during the Second Intifada, when it was precisely the Palestinians who were delivering body blows to the Israeli peace camp—and not Peres’s actions in 1996.

I haven’t yet seen any remembrances or good commentaries by French analysts or political actors. If I do, will post.

UPDATE: Hanan Ashrawi, who had ongoing dealings with Peres during the Oslo process, assesses his legacy a NYT op-ed (October 3rd), “Shimon Peres: The peacemaker who wasn’t.”

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Elie Wiesel at Yad Vashem, 18 December 1986 (photo: AFP/Archives/Sven Nackstrand)

Elie Wiesel at Yad Vashem, 18 December 1986 (photo: AFP/Archives/Sven Nackstrand)

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I have nothing in particular to say about him that isn’t being said by everyone else. One salutes him as a witness to the Holocaust and for the role he played in instilling the memory of this—of the greatest crime in the history of the modern world—in the collective consciousness (in Europe and North America at least). As it happens, I am presently teaching a section on the Second World War in France—in which I naturally cover the Holocaust and history of antisemitism—in a course for American undergraduates on a summer program in Paris. The day before yesterday we went to the Père Lachaise cemetery, mainly to see the steles and memorials to the wartime deportees and other victims of Nazi barbarism. We lingered for a minute at the stele to the memory of those who perished at the Auschwitz III-Monowitz Buna slave labor camp, where Elie Wiesel was deported to at age 15, before the transfer to Buchenwald in the final months of the war.

Wiesel was not without blemishes, taking regrettable positions on a number of issues, e.g. supporting the Iraq war, uncritically apologizing for Israel. As Peter Beinart, entre autres, has covered that well, I won’t. The obituary in The Forward by Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum, “Elie Wiesel, the moral force who made sure we will never forget evil of Holocaust,” is worth reading. Note, in particular, Berenbaum’s discussion of Wiesel’s Francophilia

Offered French citizenship upon his arrival [in France in 1945], Wiesel did not understand the question and consequently refused the invitation. His statelessness and the intricacies of traveling without a passport was the reason he stated for becoming an American citizen a decade later. Thus, unlike many survivors who immigrated to the United States, Wiesel regarded France – and not America – as the land in which he rebuilt his life in freedom.

Those who worked with him in France remembered his intense desire to learn French and to absorb French literature and the thrills of Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, the purveyors of French existentialism. He had a passion for music, and earned his meager living by leading a choir and to his final days he loved to sing. He was determined to master the language. Jack Kolbert wrote that “Wiesel chose to write in French just as a convert chooses a new religion.”

Wiesel wrote: “I owe France my secular education, my language and my career as a writer… It was in France that I found compassion and humanity. It was in France that I found generosity and friendship. It was in France that I discovered the other side, the brighter side of mankind.”

Wiesel was kinder than many French Jews – and even many contemporary Frenchmen and women – who recoil at the French cooperation with the Germans in the deportation of Jewish children and the betrayal of non-citizens and even French Jews.

Like Samuel Beckett, Wiesel chose to write in his adopted language French – neither Yiddish even though Yiddish was his native tongue, nor Hebrew, the sacred tongue in which he pursued his journalistic career. And not even English, the language of the land in which he lived for more the last three score years of his life.

Also see the obituary in The New York Times by Joseph Berger.

UPDATE: I asked Holocaust scholar and friend Marc Masurovsky for his thoughts on Elie Wiesel. His response:

Elie Wiesel? He created a persona and fell into the trap of that persona. I give him tremendous credit for having put into accessible words the trauma that he survived. But I fault him for not having done enough for the cause of restitution. In fact, he never spoke out on behalf of those who sought looted art. If he had, I believe that Holocaust educational institutions would have been placed in an uncomfortable position and would have had to choose whether or not to heed his message. That’s how influential he has been and will continue to be. I do credit him for having dissented with the pre-Holocaust museum board for having presented a more spiritual vision of what a Museum should look like. But then, that’s why we don’t put poets in charge of policy and politics.

Following up

One more point. The US Holocaust Memorial Council almost threw Elie out because he threw his support behind the first iteration of the New York-based Museum for Jewish Heritage, at a time when the USHMM was not even built. Also, he supported a competing design for the museum, proposed by Israeli architects which would have been a superb memorial, devoid of content.

2nd UPDATE: The well-known gauchiste political scientist Corey Robin, playing the empêcheur de tourner en rond, has fired off a dissenting view on Elie Wiesel on his blog.

3rd UPDATE: Another Holocaust scholar friend of mine, who asked not to be named here—as he doesn’t wish to publicly debate the issue—wrote this to me about Elie Wiesel:

I deliberately didn’t post anything on Wiesel, besides the Beinart piece from Haaretz. Weisel was blind to the nature and extent of Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians, and what made this so lamentable was the fact that he was the public face of defending human rights and “never again.” The letters to Weisel by Arthur Hertzburg reveal the hypocrisy or lack of moral clarity on Weisel’s part. Regarding Holocaust Studies, among specialists Weisel was regarded as a pop culture bullshit artist, claiming he had read everything there is on the subject, while remaining pretty shallow when he appeared in academic forums. Of course, there was his personal experience on which to draw, but not much more than that (despite a huge expanse of scholarly analysis). On television, he was always predictable with that studied sad, perplexed expression. One of my close friends was on the original Holocaust Museum committee, and almost quit over how much campaigning there had been to get Weisel a Nobel prize, sometimes side tracking the work at hand. During the last Gaza war, I tried to get a few of the younger Holocaust scholars to join me in addressing an open letter to Weisel, very much along the lines that Hertzberg already had laid out. No one dared to do so, though they were embarrassed by Weisel’s silence and deflecting the crucial moral issues regarding how a Jewish state, born of the Holocaust, could act with such indifference to the taking of innocent lives. That said, before the Holocaust had become a major issue and a field of study, Weisel stood almost alone in keeping the subject from passing into oblivion like so much of what had happened to civilians during World War Two. Weisel personified and embodied Jewish suffering in Europe; he was an important symbol. Eventually, in my view, his moment had passed, but he could not accommodate himself to a place outside the limelight. I tended to switch the channel whenever he was on television, rather than endure his repetitions and posturing.

4th UPDATE: Writer, business consultant, and liberal Zionist Bernard Avishai has a remembrance of Elie Wiesel in The New Yorker. Money quote

Remarkably, however, there is not a word in the Times obituary about the occupation of the Palestinian territories. That is not an oversight. To the dismay of Israeli peace activists, and their supporters abroad, who’ve seen Wiesel’s unique international stature grow over two generations—and sought his support—he rarely if ever publicly raised his voice against any Israeli actions: not the bombings of Beirut in 1982; not the subsequent massacre, by Lebanese Phalangists, at Sabra and Shatila, within the perimeter held by the Israeli Army; not the disgraceful behavior of settlers in Hebron; not the encirclement by Israeli ministries of Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood; not the obstacles placed before international efforts to restore potable water and electricity to the residents of Gaza. Many of us who admired him in our youth became increasingly impatient with his inability to see the occupation for what it was. Primo Levi, also a survivor of Auschwitz, condemned Menachem Begin’s war in Lebanon as “success achieved with an unprincipled use of arms.” For Levi, evil was too explicably human to be absolute: “I feel indignant toward those who hastily compare the Israeli generals to Nazi generals, and yet I have to admit that Begin draws such judgments on himself . . . I fear that this undertaking [in Lebanon], with its frightening cost in lives, will inflict on Judaism a degradation difficult to cure . . . I sense in myself, not without surprise, a profound emotional bond to Israel, but not to this Israel.”

5th UPDATE: Riki Lippitz, cantor of the Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange NJ—with whom I was acquainted in high school (I was, and remain, friends with her sister, Lori)—shared her personal memories of Elie Wiesel on WNYC News.

6th UPDATE: Lebanese-American writer and pundit Hussein Ibish—who is presently Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington—writes in Foreign Policy that “Elie Wiesel’s moral imagination never reached Palestine: The great writer’s humanitarianism knew no bounds — except where it met his nationalism.”

See also the op-ed in Haaretz by Simone Zimmerman and Jacob Plitman—both activists in progressive Jewish organizations—”Remembering Elie Wiesel means recognizing Palestinian suffering even if he never could.”

7th UPDATE: Two pieces on Wiesel from past years, which have been making the rounds on social media: Sara Roy, senior research scholar at Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, “Response to Elie Wiesel [on his statement on Hamas],” in the gauchiste CounterPunch (September 9, 2014); and Arthur Hertzberg, “An open letter to Elie Wiesel [in regard to his declarations on the Intifada],” in The New York Review of Books (August 18, 1988) (h/t Eric Goldstein).

Père Lachaise cemetery , Paris

Père Lachaise cemetery , Paris

Père Lachaise cemetery, Paris

Père Lachaise cemetery, Paris

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Ronit Elkabetz (Photo credit: Bebert Bruno/SIPA)

Ronit Elkabetz (Photo credit: Bebert Bruno/SIPA)

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She died today, at age 51. Cancer. I was shocked, as I had no idea. She was Israel’s leading actress, well-known in France, and one of my favorites (of any nationality). She was terrific. I saw her in eleven films, almost all good—with the best being the 2007 The Band’s Visit (in France: La Visite de la fanfare). I love this movie. She also co-directed (with her brother, Shlomi) three very good films—a trilogy, in which she had the lead role—two in the last decade: To Take a Wife (Prendre Femme) and The Seven Days (Les Sept jours), which, entre autres, are almost ethnographic in their depiction of Moroccan Jewish sub-culture in Israel.

The third part of the trilogy, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (in France: Le Procès de Viviane Amsalem), came out in 2014. It is entirely set in a rabbinical court room in Israel, with the protag, Viviane (Elkabetz’s character, who is loosely modeled after her own mother), seeking a divorce—gett, in Hebrew—from her husband, Elisha (Simon Abkarian), from whom she is separated, can no longer stand, and doesn’t want to even try patching things up with. She wants a divorce, period. But as personal status in Israel—as in majority Islamic countries, Turkey and Tunisia excepted—is governed by religious law, she has to seek the divorce in a rabbinical law court, presided by three rabbinical judges. Husband Elisha refuses the divorce—and only he can grant it—and the rabbis take his side, at least initially, so she is constrained to remain married to the man she loathes. The entire two-hour film is of Viviane’s judicial nightmare and which lasts five years, of her and her lawyer trying to persuade three rabbis, who are no more sympathetic to the woman’s plight than would be any qadi in a Shari’a law court. It’s a gripping film, though seemed interminable after a certain point—it just goes on and on—but which was certainly deliberate on the Elkabetzs’ part, for the spectator to feel the exasperation of the wife with the interminability of the divorce proceeding—Jewish halakha law, objectively speaking, being archaic and retrograde when it comes to such a matter (for an elaboration on the subject, see the interview with Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz in The New Republic, “In Israeli divorce, ‘the man has all the power’;” an opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post by rabbinical court advocate and attorney Osnat Sharon, “When film and reality meet;” and an article by Adam Janofsky in Tablet on “chained wives” refused Jewish divorces by their husbands).

Le Monde’s Middle East grand reporter Christophe Ayad posted on social media today a portrait of Ronit Elkabetz he published in Libération in September 2009. And writer Ayelet Tsabari has a piece in the Forward today on “How Ronit Elkabetz gave Mizrahi women like me permission to dream big.”

UPDATE: Haaretz has a tribute to Ronit Elkabetz with this lede: “In the span of only 25 years, Elkabetz grew to become one of the most respected Israeli creators, pushing Sephardi women to the cinematic forefront.” Accompanying the tribute is a one-minute video on her life and career.

2nd UPDATE: In an interview in Le Monde in 2007, Ronit Elkabetz had this to say about Israel and Arabs:

Je fais donc partie des deux peuples, Israël et Palestine, depuis toujours et pour toujours. La culture arabe est dans nos veines, dans notre cuisine, notre musique et notre langue. Les gens qui le nient sont loin du réel.

Pour l’info, Elkabetz was opposed to the occupation. N.B. her role in Michal Aviad’s film ‘Invisible’, which I posted on three years ago.

3rd UPDATE: Le Point has an article (May 1st) by its Jerusalem correspondent, “Les Rabbins et le divorce,” in which the film ‘Gett’ is discussed.

gett the trial of viviane amsalem

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