Thursday, March 12, 2009

Terra Incognita 75 Obama's "Special interests", the UK and narratives

Terra Incognita
Issue 75
“Written to enlighten, guaranteed to offend”

A Publication of Seth J. Frantzman
Jerusalem, Israel


March 3rd, 2009

1) “Special Interests and Lobbyists” and evil bankers: The new demagoguery:
The latest shrill calls from politicians in Washington and Europe has been against
“bankers” and “special interests” and “lobbyists.” This demagoguery is just one part of
an overall ignoramization of the public discourse. All of politics is special interests. All
of politics is lobbyists. The leftist populists who speak this way perhaps forget that all
their lovable minorities and Greenpeace activists are all part and parcel of the same thing.
It is worthwhile to debunk this and other myths about the financial crises of 2009.

2) Land of Extremes: What went wrong with the English?:
The list of extreme outburst coming out of the UK never seems to end and it begs the question of whether the land, once known for the stiff upper lip and stubborn persistence, modesty and frugality, has turned into the land of extremes, of whining and blaming others. The latest outburst of anti-semitism are merely the tip of the iceberg. England is becoming a disturbing society where rhetoric is becoming debased and savage.

3) A question of narratives and coexistence:
With yet another ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ and ‘Durban II’ opening soon and with the endless comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany and Gaza to the ‘Holocaust’ there comes the need to re-examine the true place of Europe and European Jews in the history of Israel. It appears that those who hate Israel need it to be ‘white and European’ in order to hate it and call it ‘colonialist and racist’. New coexistence programs where Jews and Arabs learn eachothers ‘narratives’ in Israel reinforce the notion that all of Jewish history is primarily tied up with the Holocaust and European Zionism. But an examination of the other side, the Sephardie and Mizrachi side of Israeli history, the expulsion from Spain, Operation magic Carpet and Moses, the story of the Irgun and Lehi, the Old Yishuv, all begins to reveal a narrative that has been left behind. Only through emphasizing that narrative can Israel rise above those who wish to place her in a European context.

“Special Interests and Lobbyists” and evil bankers: The new demagoguery
March 1st, 2009
Seth J. Frantzman

The lies never seem to end about the current financial mess. But let’s get some things straight for the record. The government provided and in fact ordered Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to loosen their investing standards. These Government Sponsored Entities were ordered to provide more liquidity and also to help ‘low income’ and ‘minority’ buyers. Money was thrown at poor people, standards were loosened, until borrowers were happily taking 103% financing. The government, in fact the Congressional committee run by Barney Frank tasked with overseeing the GSEs, said they were in “good financial condition.” They were not and they went bankrupt. Investors lost everything. The government lost nothing. Those who ran Fannie and Freddie were not brought to justice and neither were those who misled investors.

Those who invested with Bernie Madoff got what they deserved. They, along with other investors in pyramid schemes, are trying to make us feel sorry for them. There is nothing to feel sorry for. They invested in a great scheme. They made huge sums every year, some 10-14%. Then they lost it all. That is there problem. Those who invested with Madoff were corrupt. Some of them were directly corrupt. In one instance a board member of Yeshiva University was the head of a firm that invested its funds in Madoff. He received the money from the board he sat on, voting to send money to himself, and then funneled the money to Madoff. This conflict of interest has gone unnoticed. It was all ‘wink wink, nod, nod’. This behavior is the worst in corruption and shows the degree to which the Board of Yeshiva University did not carry out its fiduciary responsibilities or due diligence. But men like this are not be prosecuted. But don’t shed tears for them. Its hard not to shed tears for Elie Wiesel who also lost money along with his foundation. But no tears must be shed. This was the worst in slimy disgusting corruption. It surrounding being members of high society and entering a ‘secret society’ where people were invited to invest and ‘blacklisted’ from investing. People begged ‘to get in’.

Don’t believe the amounts people say were ‘lost’ in the Madoff scam. Since most of the winnings through Madoff were on paper the ‘loss’ was in fact mythical. When Hadassah college or other philanthropies claims they lost tens of millions this is inaccurate. What should be asked is how much they invested in the first place. That is what they lost. Don’t believe that Madoff represents the truth of the ‘financial Jews who ruin markets’ conspiracy. It was Jews who were the victims. It was Jews bilking Jews, using Jewish networks to do so. But for Jewish charities to scream that there is no money is also the height of chutzpah. There is money. The American Jewish World Service is giving hundreds of millions to starving Africans and Sri Lankans. It is practicing Tikkun Olam, the supposed duty of Jews to ‘fix the world’ and ‘save everyone’. Jews should wonder why their own charities won’t even give to Jewish causes but they shouldn’t that Madoff stole from them. They stole from themselves and corrupt investment advisors sitting on boards and running their own investment houses at the same time stole from them. Madoff was just the enabler of an already corrupt environment where everyone turned a blind eye to conflicts of interest and stupid nonsensical investment advice. When someone says there is a “safe high yield CD” and that you can get in through his fund, as Sandford another ponzi scheme operator did, ask the name of the CD and buy it yourself. It doesn’t exist.

The radical populist complaints about bank bonuses and ‘how dare they use taxpayers money for this and that’ is full of hypocrisies. It is true that taxpayers money was used to bailout the banks. But people have a short memory. The government and Hank Paulson ordered the banks to take the money in order to inspire confidence. Paulson, a “muscular Christian” as the Economist described him, brought in the CEOs of the biggest banks and said “you are all taking money.” Banks such as Wells Fargo didn’t want the money but they were bended Paulson’s will. Paulson, a former Goldman Sachs executive, had allowed Lehman Brothers to die, perhaps out of old firm rivalry. But while Paulson did his best he also created this image that the taxpayers and the ‘average man’ now had the right to complain about every nickel and dime spent by U.S banks. It is true that the banks got a bailout but the bailout was to preserve the system. It is true that CEOs should have some modesty. Bonuses should be more modest. But to begin to tell the banks how to run themselves is not the right answer and to whip people up into a populist fervor against the ‘evil bankers’ is misguided and demagogic. Dragging the bankers back and forth to Washington, and to parliament in the UK, to yell at them and cajole them and make them seem little is playing a populist card, ironically by the same politicians who ordered Fannie and Freddie to liberalize funding rules that helped bring on the mess. The bankers are no saints but they don’t deserve the populist backlash. The American populist should look himself in the mirror, it is he who took the 100% mortgage and he second mortgage for 15% for ‘home improvements’. The realtor and the mortgage banker are more to blame, the local people who sold buyers a bill of goods. But the buyers are to blame as well. The populist should also blame his neighbors who are defaulting and who have stopped paying their mortgages in hopes that “the government” will bail them out, which is the latest government fix.

Obama’s newest demagoguery is against the “special interests” and “lobbyists”. What is he talking about. The $900 billion stimulus package was designed entirely to give lobbyists their payday. Let’s be honest. All that money is going to special interests, just the ‘right’ kind of special interests such as environmentalists and unions. And who are the people that believe that politics can work without a ‘special interest’ and a ‘lobbyist’? Where would the Democratic party be without gay rights groups and unions and abortion rights activists and Green Peace and all the other lobbyists and special interest groups? Is this is a joke? Politics is special interests. It’s not a hallowed ivory tower. Even the founding fathers served interests. Some were land owners. Some disliked paying taxes without being represented. They were, in the end, an American special interest in the British empire. Their interests were not taken care of and their lobbying fell on deaf ears and they rebelled. If that was the nature of politics in 1776 how can on expect it to not include these foundations of its existence today? The entire government is one giant special interest.

We live in an age of demagogues of pathetic low brow speech that caters to the lowest common denominator of demonization. Special interests. Bankers. Lobbyists. Those are the watch words of our era. And people believe this will solve the 2009 Financial Crises. FDR was also a sort of demagogue. But his at least appealed to the common good and higher values. There is nothing lower than blaming ‘bankers’ and ‘secret special interests’ for our problems. We could all do well to Warren Buffet and say “ I did some dumb things.” For all those who whine about Madoff and whine about the ‘bankers’ and follow Obama mindlessly in railing against ‘special interest’ perhaps they could learn from Buffet: “I made at least one major mistake of commission and several lesser ones that also hurt... Furthermore, I made some errors of omission, sucking my thumb when new facts came in that should have caused me to re-examine my thinking and promptly take action.” Buffet may be the last American, the last man, the last person to take some responsibility. America is no longer about responsibility. Americans have become like Arabs and Europeans: blame everyone for our problems, whine, complain, whine, complain, do some demagoguery, yell and scream and whine and complain. How about a little self reflection? How about some hard work? How about some looking in the mirror and saying ‘I screwed up.’ How about some CEOs and politicians resigning for this? How about some honor and decency? No. That’s not the way of the 21st century.

Land of Extremes: What went wrong with the English?
March 1st, 2009
Seth J. Frantzman

Whether it is holocaust denying Bishop Richard Williamson or the senior British diplomat, Rowan Laxton, who mouthed off at a gym, watching news from Gaza, about the Jews there is a wave of extremism sweeping England. It was noticeable during the first day of the 2008/2009 Gaza war when the Israeli embassy was swamped by militant angry protestors with signs declaring “Stop the Gaza Holocaust.” It was noticeable when the U.K’s largest educational unions voted to boycott Israeli academics unless those academics signed a document declaring their opposition to their country’s policies. It was noticeable when an editor of a British journal fired an Israeli editor of the journal, who happened to be a leftist Israeli and head of amnesty international in Israel. Whether it is British TV asking Ahmadinjed to give the Christmass day message or Oxford university inviting Holocaust denier David Irving to speak or schools in the UK ending teaching of the Holocaust lest it offend Muslim students, or the Archbishop of Canterbury saying Shariah law should be in England the country is beginning to manifest a total breakdown in accepted norms of communication. The famous British stiff upper lip is transforming into a curled lip of anger, sneering, extremism and arrogance, full of a never ending stream of vitriole.

Britain exports its extremism in the form of its numerous members of foreign aid organizations, NGOs, EU monitors, human rights workers and activists. Clad in their traditional Khaffiyas they roam the globe like the colonialists of old. Accept the old colonialists would have been embarrased by this generation of Englishmen and women, which resembles in no way the last generation. The distinct nature of the extremism in England is akin to the mass psychosis that has overcome other countries in times of crises accept in England it was not clear that this time was a time of national soul searching or crises. In fact until 2009 England had one of the best economies in Europe and was flush with cash. The loss of the Empire, which took place in the 1960s, was long ago, as was the error of shortages following the Second World War.

So what went wrong. This question is as pertinent when applied to England as when Bernard Lewis applied it to Islam in his famous post 9/11 book What Went Wrong? The problem with the English is that with the exception of the years of Cromwell there are few period of English history that provide us with an insight into the extremist side of the English national soul. Certainly England has long prided itself on the opposite, of being in control, relaxed, modest, strong in the face of adversity. This is the Anglo-Saxon values that are prided and which had much success in the 19th century. Frugaity, modesty, decency, calm behavour, little romance. There was none of the passion of the Latin and none of the religious Extremism of the Catholic or the Muslim. There was none of the savagery of the Russian or the slavish obedience and drunkenness of the Slav. There was none of the regimented homogeneity of the Prussian. That was the stereotype at least. Where the French enjoyed flowers and food and wine the British enjoyed hardship, they thrived on rain and horrific weather. But there’s was not the extremism of the monks, an aesthetic love for hardship like Francis of Assizi. There’s was the hardship that one had in order to succeed. That is why the English were not only prized for their seafaring and force of arms, for their love of the law, but also for their individualism, their religious diversity, their freedoms, their dogged determination, resourcefulness and innovation, but also for their business acumen.

And yet it all seems to have been swamped by extremism, a sort of Islamic-Latin form of emotional and self reightous extremism. Rowan Laxton, an employee of the foreign office, reportedly shouted “fucking Israelis, fucking Jews…they should be whipped off the earth.” Is this kind of language by an employee of the government, a senior employee, simply the result of a breakdown in education in England, the replacing of the old elites by the garbage of the lower classes? There is no doubt that the culture of the lower class English was never that of the aristocracy or Middle Class. So is this all that has happened? England is simply becoming more low class, more popular, more base, more low brow? Perhaps Laxton should not be seen as some aberration but as a man of the people?

But there seems more to it than that. The United States was founded by Englishmen of all classes. From Southern Aristocrats to the Puritans they came from all over England. Yet while there is a popular extremism that can always be found in the United States, there has been no abrupt break with the cultural past of the United States. However the UK seems to be experiencing a general cultural breakdown and abrupt break with what was and the embracing of the future.

The British make up the foremost critics of Zionism. From Alan Hart to Christopher Hitchens to Jonathan Cook and Robert Fisk, England tends to churn out writers with an extremist and visceral hatred of Israel. The hatred goes to great extremes. It accuses Israel of being a Nazi state, claims that Zionism is the reason for antisemitism (Hart), claims that the Jews monopolize and steal the Holocaust (Fisk) from humanity and that Israel is the reason for the Clash of civilizations (Cook). It even condemns the ‘harshness’ of the Jewish monotheistic religion (Hitchens). The assault is on all fronts.
Anti-semitism in England isn’t new obviously. The Jews were expelled from England in the 13th century. During the 1930s several prominent British aristocrats, including Mosley, became Nazis. During the 1948 war Jewish shops and synagogues were ransacked and attacked in response to attacks on British soldiers by Jews in Palestine.
Anti-Israel extremism morphed into anti-semitism at some point. One cartoon that one a cartoon award in England showed Ariel Sharon eating a child. Ken Livingston, the mayor of London, compared a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard. One of the princes wore a swastika arm band to a party. Then there are the anti-semitic plays being put on in England including ‘Seven Jewish Children’, which have garnered acclaim.
The most recent attacks have included “On New Year's Eve, a gang of youths alarmed people in Golders Green, north west London, by trying to enter Jewish shops while shouting "Jew" at individuals. Nearby, a Jewish man was pulled from his car and assaulted by three men, but not seriously hurt. In an attack on the synagogue, in Brondesbury, arsonists tried to smash a window, but failed because of the toughened protective glass.”
We didn’t know England would go this way. But it appears it is going extremist and that even the Anglo-Saxons are thus not immune from the dangers of radical Liberalism and its alliance with Islamism. The combination of the two make for the most terrible extremism.

A question of narratives and coexistence
Seth J. Frantzman
February 28th, 2009

Israeli Apartheid week, which connects Israel with the racist policies of the former South African regime began on March 1st Durban II is scheduled to take place from April 20-24, 2009 in Geneva where Israel will once again be accused of racism. Meanwhile in Israel the former education minister Yuli Tamir has ordered that a new coexistence curriculum be adopted in Israeli schools. According to reports the idea was formulated by a committee including Israel Education Prize Laureate Prof. Gabi Salomon of Haifa University and Dr. Mohammed Issawi, head of the Al Qassemi College of Education, and other education experts and representatives of the Education Ministry. The central idea of the new courses will be for Jewish and Arab students to learn the “culture, society, history, beliefs, heritage, language, and collective narrative [of the other] in the context of granting respect and legitimacy to that narrative, without necessarily agreeing with it.”
At the same time as the coexistence curriculum is being adopted an Israeli and Arab team are scheduled to compete in this year’s Eurovision contact representing Israel. The singing duo are Ahinoam Nini and Mira Awad and they are being billed as “an Arab who looks Jewish and a Jew who looks Arab.” One is a Yemenite Jew and the other is a Christian Arab resident of Tel Aviv whose mother is Bulgarian. The juxtaposition of the Israeli attempts at coexistence and the continuing growth of stereotypes that label Israel a ‘white colonialist nazi apartheid state’ suppressing a ‘swarthy Palestinian indigenous minority’ appear contradictory.

The discussion of narratives, a central theme in coexistence programs, has a very problematic side to it that threatens the soul of Israel’s belief in itself and its right to exist. Narratives are supposed to create coexistence by teaching each side in a conflict to ‘understand the other’. In Israel among Palestinian-Jewish coexistence projects this means pairing the Holocaust alongside the Nakhba. Such comparisons have become increasingly common, not only in Israel but also at Holocaust commemorations in Europe. For instance the Dutch Integration Minister recently noted that “Muslims should understand that what al-Nakba is for Muslims, the Shoah is to Jews and vice-versa.” Dan Diner, a scholar at the Minerva Center for German History at Hebrew University wrote in Reflecting the Other-The Israeli-Palestinian Discourse Reconsidereed: An Encounter in Culture, identity and Perception; “for the Jews that was the Shoah, for the Palestinians it was the Nakba….narratives that serve to justify the ideological imperatives that define their political history.”

The linking of Nakba and Holocaust seems on the face of it to allow for dialogue between Jews and Palestinians. But it also means that while the Palestinian narrative is primarily one where they are the victims of Jews the Jewish narrative is one where they are the victims of Europeans. This leads to the obvious question so many anti-Israel activists raise; “why did Palestinians pay for the crimes of Europeans.” The problem is that the Jewish narrative is not being explored enough in juxtaposition to the Palestinian one. Where is the discussion of the expulsion from Spain in 1492(Girush Sephard)? Where is discussion of the expulsion and flight of the Sephardim and Mizrachim from Muslim countries? Was that not also a ‘Nakba’? Authors such as Malka Hillel Shulewitz in The Forgotten Millions and Joan Peters have argued exactly this point.

The central problem is that while the traditional Zionist historiography was replaced by the ‘New Historians’ in the 1990s one central theme remained the same among Israel’s intellectual and political enemies: Israel should be considered a white colonial extension of Europe, an archaic pre-modern nation state in a post-modern post-national world. Ironically those arguing for a ‘Eurocentric’ view of Israeli history, where Zionism can only be understood in a European context and where Jews are presented as Europeans and where Israel exists solely because of the Holocaust, are the very people who support the most extreme Palestinian irredentism.

Any discussion of the ‘two narratives’ must begin by rooting the Jewish and Zionist experience in the East, in the land of Israel. This means discussing the expulsion from Spain as a central part of the Jewish experience and emphasizing the expulsion of the Sephardim and Mizrahim from Muslim lands as central to the story of Israel.
The book Zihram Nezah: to the Memory of the Fallen Heroes of the Irgun Zvai Leumi published by the Association for the Rehabilitation of Freedom Fighters in 1959 helps provide evidence for this essential part of the Zionist Jewish narrative. In 461 pages, each devoted to a fallen Irgun and Lehi member who died in the fighting in 1948, the faces that stare back are harrowing and piercing. What strikes one immediately is the origins, geographic and religious, of the men and women. Many were from traditional and religious families. Thirty percent were born in what was then Palestine and fourteen percent were born in other countries populated by Sephardim. Of the Palestinian born Jews half were from Jerusalem and dozens more came from Old Yishuv towns such as Hebron and Tiberias as well as Arab towns such as Jaffa and Gaza. This is the Jewish narrative of the war of independence.

Those young men contained in the Irgun book of martyrs were no colonizers. Born in Baghdad or Sana in Yemen, born in Jerusalem and Haifa, they passionately fought for the freedom of their nation. The simplistic notion that they joined a European Zionist movement feeds the need for a false narrative of mythmaking that dismisses Zionism as colonialism and so often distorts the idea of the ‘Iron Wall’ and the ‘land without a people’. For Nasim Mizrachi, born in Tiberias in 1931 there was certainly a land full of people. He had no idea that 77 years after his birth and 60 years after his death that he would be painted as some European Zionist colonialist, “extinguishing indigenous rights” of local Palestinians, as some Israeli scholars such as Alexander Kedar, have termed what befell the Palestinians. For Yithak Masori, born in Ethiopia, the national rights of his people was what he struggled for.

Those who oppose the existence of Israel seek to deny the existence of the majority of Israelis, descendants of Libyan, Baghdadi, Kurdish, Thesaloniki and Kavkazi Jews. They seek to deny the existence both of the Old Yishuv Palestinian Jews, the ones who lived in Nazareth, Gaza and Silwan, and the existence of the more recent Russian and Ethiopian immigrants. They need Israel to be a ‘white’ European state and they seek to delegitimize Israel by seeing it as either a direct result of a world ‘feeling sorry’ for the Holocaust or a result of the British Mandate. Benjamin Asher born in Jerusalem in 1922, a third generation Jerusalemite or Shoshana Jamil from Yemen were not colonists and not apartheid practitioners. The same Europeans and Canadians who will speak of Israel Apartheid Week could not distinguish them from a Palestinian member of the Khalidi or Dajani family. Those members of the World Council of Churches who protest on behalf of Palestinian in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah at properties that once housed Jews before the 1936 riots today confront Ethiopian IDF soldiers and cry “Apartheid!” at those whose skin color would have made them victims of the real Apartheid. The Jewish narrative of Israel must include them lest a generation of Jews be raised believing that the roots of Judaism and Zionism can only be found in Paris and Berlin and not in Sana, Gondar, Herat and Hebron.

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