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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Matthias Kuentzel on some double standards

As the rockets continue to fall on Sderot from evacuated territory...
Why We Cannot Criticize Israel that Way

A response to Alfred Grosser · By Matthias Küntzel

“I was despised as a Jew by the Germans.” This sentence begins the French political scientist Alfred Grosser’s essay, “Why I Criticize Israel.” He is not the only one to emphasize Jewish identity when criticizing Israel. A German-Jewish group is calling for an end to the Hamas boycott; Jewish-American authors like Tony Judt have argued for the dissolution of Israel as a Jewish state; and 350 Jews in Britain (Independent Jewish Voices) have distanced themselves from their umbrella organization’s pro-Israeli position.

Some, such as the historian Eric Hobsbawn and the playwright Harold Pinter, seem to have discovered their Jewishness upon becoming critics of Israeli policy, which has garnered them greater attention in the media. The contention that Jews cannot be suspected of anti-Semitism and that they are therefore especially convincing critics, one assumes, is common sense. This, however, contradicts a study published by the American Jewish Committee, which documents anti-Semitism among Jewish writers and concludes that Jews contesting and challenging Israel play a decisive role. This phenomenon represents a “staggering characteristic of new anti-Semitism.”[1] How do we view Alfred Grosser’s criticism of Israel? Are his arguments “especially convincing” or “staggeringly anti-Semitic”?

Grosser calls our attention to “the terrible lot of the inhabitants of Gaza, the West Bank, or East Jerusalem” and attributes their circumstances to the “terrible position of present-day Israeli policy.” He writes: “I do not understand the fact that Jews today despise others and claim the right to pursue policy mercilessly in the name of self-defense.” Israel’s violence, he continues, is “luring … so many desperate young people into suicide attacks.” Moreover, the “old, fundamental” Arab question has to be taken seriously: “Why should we bear the onerous consequences of Auschwitz?”

Here, Grosser touches upon a sore spot, crucial to the guilty conscience of many Europeans who hold themselves indirectly responsible for the plight of the Palestinians. This, however, is based on a false assumption: No Arab has had to suffer onerous consequences for Auschwitz. It is true, the experience of the Holocaust in 1947 prompted the United Nations to vote in favor of the foundation of a Jewish state in Palestine. The fact that this resolution at the same time created an Arab Palestinian state, however, has fallen into oblivion.

Eternal Oppressor?

The majority of Arab Palestinians wanted to accept the United Nation’s two state solution in 1947. After all, at this time around 10, 000 Palestinians were working in predominantly Jewish-led industries such as citrus farming. But the Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin el-Husseini, rejected the two state solution without consulting his fellow Palestinians and persuaded the leaders of the five neighboring Arab nations to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state by all means. The war of 1947-48, just as disastrous as it was avoidable, resulted in the “onerous consequences” Grosser alludes to: 6,000 Israelis and countless Arab Palestinians dead, and innumerable Arab Palestinians and Jews within the rest of the Arab world displaced.

To this day, PLO historiography suppresses Arab voices that supported Zionism or had come to terms with the Zionist movement. It was in this spirit that numerous Arabs welcomed European Jewish immigrants in the 1920s as investors who would help lessen the material and cultural gap between the East and West with new technologies and new enthusiasm. Hillel Cohen’s pioneering study, Palestinian Collaboration With Zionism 1917-1948, enumerates the motives for Arabs to cooperate with Zionists. Some promised themselves personal gain (supplementary income or employment), others co-operated in what they considered to be the best interest of their tribes, villages, or nation, while the motivations of a third group “were ethical and humanist: They had Jews as friends and neighbors and were digusted by the violence of the Palestinian national movement.”[2]

These acts of violence were perpetrated by Arabs whose hatred of Zionists was rooted in the new immigrants’ modern way of live – a way of life that severely challenged traditional customs. While, as a rule, the branch of Palestinians in favor of modernization sought to cooperate with Zionists, Islamist forerunners under the leadership of the Mufti Amin el-Husseini battled against every attempted agreement as a betrayal and thus enabled the overthrow of the first two state proposal in 1937.[3]

This Mufti’s legacy continues to have an effect. Those who seek a settlement with Israel still risk their lives: A total of 942 Palestinians were murdered by fellow Palestinians between 1987 and 1993 due to alleged “collaboration,” whereby 130 of these allegations involved “moral misconduct” (drug use, “prostitution”, video trafficking).[4] Is Grosser interested in these deaths as well?

The Abstract Evil

Sari Nusseibeh, the former PLO representative for Jerusalem and director of the Al-Quds University, refers to the second Intifada as “a ruinous and sanguinary fit of madness” in his recently published autobiography. He accurately criticizes the Hamas charter as a document that “sounds as if it came straight from the pages of Der Stürmer.”[5] Dissidents such as Nusseibeh are not mentioned in Grosser’s essay. He views the Palestinians as the collective victim and Israel as the aggressor that commits crimes “in the name of self-defense.” Obviously, Grosser is little interested in the real policy options for Israel. When asked in an April 2007 interview in the German daily Die Tageszeitung, “Isn’t it true that Israel faces a special threat?” Grosser replied: “In my opinion: No. Israel exists.”[6]

When Iranian president Ahmadinejad refers to Israel’s obliteration as a contribution to the “liberation of humanity,” Grosser does not listen. He also turns a blind eye to Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, who calls Israel a “cancer” that “must be eliminated,” and to the Hamas charter, which considers the destruction of Israel to be a vow, a promise to God. Whether Israel continues to occupy the Gaza Strip or vacates the territory in spite of rancorous domestic opposition seems to be irrelevant to Grosser. If the Gaza Strip develops into a flourishing Palestinian model region after the withdrawal, whose inhabitants focus on peace and prosperity (as was hoped in summer 2005), or if this swathe of land turns into a militarized frontline of the war against Israel does not really matter to him either.

Essentially, the familiar black and white paradigm must remain intact. Grosser portrays Israel as the abstract evil, irrespective of what policies the Israeli government does or does not carry out—while the Palestinians stand for the abstract good, regardless of what their representatives permit or accomplish.

The Beginning of Complicity

Thus, Grosser shows understanding even for suicide terror and attributes the “willingness to commit suicide attacks” to Israeli “oppression, disrespect, and dipossession.”[7] From the offender’s perspective, Grosser’s attempt to rehabilitate the suicide bomber’s honor represents an affront. Sheik Qaradawi, the most prominent representative of the Muslim Brotherhood, to which Hamas is a member organization, reminds us: These “are not suicide operations. These are heroic martyrdom operations and the heroes who carry them out don’t embark on this action out of hopelessness or despair.”[8] Pride and enthusiasm are central to the suicide murderers testamentary videos, which confirm Qaradawi’s claim that they are fulfilling a religious mission.

Grosser ignores the fact that the character of the Middle East conflict has fundamentally changed in the last 20 years. A war of Weltanschauung and religion has emerged from a minor conflict between Palestinians and Zionists, which later escalated into a larger conflict between the Israelis and the Arabs. Today, Iranian-led Islamism is waging war against the Western modell of liberalism and democracy, a war that aims to destroy Israel in its first stage.

Grosser’s claim to act out of “genuine sympathy for the suffering in Gaza and in the ‘territories,’” degenerates into a sentimental gesture; he does not care about analysis, which – in its literal translation – means the dissolution of a complex problem in its individual parts. The absence of clarity, however, is the beginning of complicity. Those like Grosser who turn a blind eye to Islamist ideology—its cult of death, its anti-Semitism, its hatred of self-determination—stab every Muslim in the back who wants to prevent the Talibanization of his live. Second, they make Israel into a scapegoat for Islamist violence according to the motto: The more barbaric anti-Jewish terrorism becomes, the more outrageous Israeli guilt must be. The ancient “the Jew is guilty” stereotype is thus supplemented with a modern variant.

This type of circular argument, based on ignorance, is en vogue. A 2007 survey sponsored by the BBC shows that 77 percent of Germans negatively view Israel’s world influence. The only country in the world whose elimination is being propagated and prepared for by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas, is thus regarded as scapegoat No. 1. It is comprehensible that against this background a growing number of Jews prefer to belong to the “good Jews,” who attack Israel instead of defending it against Islamists. Why should Jews be more courageous or more prudent than non-Jews? Is, however, everyone who radically criticizes Israel at the same time an anti-Semite?

Israel is not a haven of virtue as is generally known. On one hand, Israel’s government deserves to be criticized just like every other democratically elected government in the world. On the other hand, European thinking has been influenced by anti-Semitic patterns for centuries—in this regard, no criticism of Jews or Israel is a priori immune of anti-Semitic stereotypes. At least, a European Union working definition has helped us establish a framework to evaluate when legitimate criticism stops and anti-Semitism begins: 1. When Israeli policy is equated with Nazi practices or when symbols and images of long-established anti-Semitism are assigned to Israel; 2. When Israel’s right to existence is denied; and 3. When a double standard applies and demands are made of Israel that would never be expected or demanded of another democratic state.

Those who breach this code are not necessarily supporters of Nazi anti-Semitism. They nevertheless pave the way for those who are prepared to wage a nuclear war against Israel. Hostilities against Israel appear today in the form of a pincer movement: On one side, we have anti-Semites such as Ahmadinejad or Hamas who draw their “knowledge” about Jews from the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” On the other side we have non-Jewish and Jewish “fellow travellers of anti-Semitism” in progressive Western movements and governments who take up and proliferate, albeit in muted form, Iran’s attempts to delegimize Israel.

Can Alfred Grosser be located in the second camp? I will leave the answer to the discretion of the readers.

[1] Alvin H. Rosenfeld, “Progressive“ Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism, American Jewish Committee, December 2006.

[2] Hillel Cohen, Army of Shadows. Palestinian Collaboration With Zionism 1917-1948, (University of California Press, 2007).

[3] On Amin el-Husseini’s role see, http://www.matthiaskuentzel.de/contents/national-socialism-and-anti-semitism-in-the-arab-world

[4] Abdul Jawahd Saleh and Yizahr Be’er “Collaborators in the Occupied Territories: Human Rights Abuses and Violations” (February 1995), www.birzeit.edu/crdps .

[5] Leon Wieseltier, “Sympathy for the Other”, New York Times Book Review, April 1, 2007.

[6] Interview with Alfred Grosser, “Ich muss als Jude nicht für Israel sein”, Die Tageszeitung, April 4, 2007.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Anti-Defamation League, Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi: Theologican of Terror, August 1, 2005, see: www.adl.org .

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Zeyad and more on Charlie Rose

Charlie Rose interviews Ali Fadhil, Ayub Nuri, and Zeyad Kasim on journalism and Iraq.

Also: some sort of 'Marxist' insurgent group pops up in Iraq's south. Problematic politics,

resistance against American, British and Zionist occupiers in order to liberate Iraq and form a free socialist, democratic alternative
but a vast improvement from the sadistic fascists of Jama'at al-Tawhid wa'l Jihad, the Mahdi Army etc.

Add this to the movement in the awakening councils and there may be signs of hope in Iraq amid the awning darkness.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Precarious workers and the cyber-homeless - Mayday march in Japan

(Ripped from libcom. Regretfully, I've been more or less silent about events in Japan, mostly because I don't particularly try to expose the struggles that I'm involved in to unnecessary attention. Also, I want to have a firm grip on something before I critique it. Right now, the Japanese left is stagnant, in similar ways to the left worldwide, but with its own problematics. My neglect of important subjects like these poses the problem of slipping into theoretical poverty. That's why after this article, I plan to write a bit more on the theme below of the casualised working class and after which move on to a multi-part article about the structure and cultural codes of Japanese fascism. Thanks to comrades and regular readers of the blog.)

There are 2.3 million young casualised and part-time workers in Japan.

Takeshi Yamashita does not look like a homeless person. From his carefully distressed jeans to his casual-cool navy striped T-shirt, he is every bit the trendy Tokyoite. Yet the 26-year-old has been sleeping in a reclining seat in an Internet cafe every night for the past month since he lost his steady office job and his apartment. It's cheaper than a hotel, offers access to the Internet and hundreds of Manga comic books, and even has a microwave and a shower where he can wash in the morning before heading off to one of his temporary jobs ranging from cleaning to basic office work.

Yamashita is one of Japan's many "freeters" -- a compound of "free" and "Arbeiter," the German word for "worker." A by-product of the economic crisis that hit Japan and its lifelong employment guarantees in the 1990s, freeters drift between odd jobs.

Now the economy is recovering, but many freeters are missing out on the upswing after years of unskilled work. Most expanding companies prefer to recruit fresh university graduates or transfer basic jobs to low-wage countries such as China.(yahoo news, May 7 2007)

Comprising freelance workers who live on earnings split between several jobs, and other temporary workers, day labourers, over the past two decades the numbers of freeters keeps increasing. The economic downturn that hit Japan in the 1990s has lead to permanent changes in employment practice - like elsewhere, jobs for life are long gone. Casualised low wage work has become the realityfor a wide range of young workers today; Tokyo is one of the most expensive cities in the world and high rents mean that a short period of unemployment can soon put workers on the streets. Dubbed the 'cyber-homeless', an unknown number of workers now survive for varying periods by sleeping nightly in internet cafe cubicles.

Paying 1,400 to 2,400 yen ($12-$20/£6-10/EU8.8-14.7)) for a night in a central Internet cafe, each cubicle provides a reclining seat or sofa, a blanket, computer and clothes hanger. Free soft drinks, TV, comics and Internet access are included -- and prices are cheaper than those of Japan's famous "capsule hotels," where guests sleep in plastic cells.

There is no official data on the cyber cafe homeless. Japan's Welfare Ministry plans a wider study on the phenomenon, according to a newspaper report, but in the meantime, it is hard to gauge the scope of the problem or its social impact. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many are freeters in their mid-to-late-twenties, who stay in a net cafe for a couple of months before settling for a more permanent housing solution.

Those who are older, poorer, with fewer chances of escaping their drifting lifestyle, and sometimes too embarrassed to return home, find themselves at the very bottom of cyber-society. They congregate in run-down Tokyo suburbs such as Kamata, renting poorly ventilated, smoke-filled cubicles with reclining seats for 100 yen an hour.
"It's very uncomfortable. You can't really sleep," said one Kamata cafe guest who preferred not to be named.

Those who are poorer still, both homeless and workless, live in the 'cardboard cities' of the major towns.

(All this is not so very different from what is happening now in London, an even more expensive city. Last week it was reported that East European immigrant workers were sleeping in public toilet cubicles in Hackney - at 20p a night with free washing facilities, by far the cheapest rent in town for the low-paid casualised worker. Dreams of economic advancement can quickly shatter against hard reality...)

'Rengo', the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, comments on the freeters;

Emerging Problems of Freeters (Freelance Part-Time Workers) and NEETs (Young People Not in Education, Employment or Training)
Due to high turnover (the so-called 7/5/3 phenomenon*) among young workers, their unemployment ratio remains as high as 10%. Freeters amount to 2.13 million, increasing by 100,000 a year, while NEETs are reported to number 640,000. 40% of freeters receive financial assistance from their parents and siblings, and their marriage rate is lower than that of non-freeters. They have emerged as a social problem not only from the concern of their impoverishment due to low wages but also because they could gravely undermine the social security system through their positioning outside of the coverage of pension and health insurance plans.

(* 7/5/3 phenomenon: 70% of secondary school graduates, 50% of high school graduates and 30% of university graduates terminate employment within 3 years of entering a company.)

The proportion of youth NEET has more than doubled since doubled since 1990. This includes those suffering from the 'Hikkomori' (literally; 'shut-ins') syndrome; "One million Japanese, or almost 1 percent of the population, are estimated to suffer from hikikomori, defined as a withdrawal from friends and family for months or even years. Some 40 percent of hikikomori are below the age of 21." Western psychologists have compared it to extreme social anxiety and agoraphobia (fear of open spaces). On the Mayday march described below a banner declared "Hikikomori also have a right to life".

On April 30th in Tokyo a march entitled “MayDay for Freedom and Lives” took place in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Subtitled “Resistance of the Precariat”, over 400 people took part, including freeters, part timers, day labourers and homeless, who all live with neither security nor stability. The May Day march has been organised for the past four years by the “Freeters’ General Union” to publicise and protest the problems of the precariat.

Despite tight policing the procession marched through the city to a busy shopping centre. The main feature of this event was a "Sound Demo"; the 400 demonstrators dancing to music while yelling and voicing their discontent.

A demonstrator commented;
"Talking does not make any difference, and I had to take action, so I went to a demonstration for the first time in my life. I learned and discovered so many things.
.... More than one third of the entire working population is made up of non-full time workers. In other words, even if they wish, one third of all people cannot be employed full time. .... Is this such a serious fault that they deserve to become homeless or even starve to death?"

After the march, a "Precariat talk session and interchange" took place where many different experiences and views were exchanged.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Towards a Marxist theory of Fascism and National Socialism: A Report on Developments in West Germany by Anson G. Rabinbach

Re-adjusting Cultural Codes: Reflections on Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism by Shulamit Volkov

Don't miss these.

(If you happen to have a claim to the property rights of either of the above files, make sure to email me so I can tell you to fuck right off)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

May Day in Baghdad

Hope still burns in Iraq.

From Zeyad.

Pour out a little liquor for the '9/11 truth movement'*

That's right, thanks to a truck driver in Oakland, we've finally arrived at the twilight for one of the most embarrassing American social 'movements' to have ever existed, the 9/11 'truth movement'. United by the central paranoia that 'something's just not right' about the massacre of thousands of people by Islamists on September 11th, truthers were able to cross political divides to come up with the most empty and distracting 'critique' that the American ruling class could possibly hope for. The left, which was looking for something more 'radical' than the superficial political economy on hand with the anti-war movement, was ready for the mystery meat of Alex Jones' (and others') cafeteria. Armed with the truth, they could now march with radical signs. Now they were digging deeper. The new critique took every aspect of existing society for granted in order to bury itself in forensics, in an almost monomaniacal search for the 'real killers'. Accordingly, an extraordinarily elaborate system of justifications was drawn up and distributed collectively, as a mode of participation....in something! The critique no doubt felt confrontational, since the dogma collectively prepared and re-hashed on the internet had to be disseminated within the anti-war movement through obscurantist arguments about the melting point of steel, the angle of incidence of security cameras etc. Hard work was demanded for all involved in constructing multiple fail safes in case the most obvious idiocies couldn't stand on two feet!

How tragic then that this enormous monument to crawling up one's own ass in self-refential 'scientism' now meets its end with the conclusive debunking of the 'movement's' central 'premise' i.e. that a free fire could not melt (or weaken) structural steel sufficiently to cause a structure to collapse.

Welcome to Oakland.
(CBS/AP) A heavily traveled section of freeway that funnels traffic off the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge collapsed early Sunday after a gasoline tanker truck overturned and erupted into flames, authorities said.

Flames shot 200 feet in the air and the heat was intense enough to melt part of the freeway and cause the collapse, but the truck's driver walked away from the scene with second-degree burns. No other injuries were reported.

"I've never seen anything like it," Officer Trent Cross of the California Highway Patrol said of the crumpled interchange. "I'm looking at this thinking, 'Wow, no one died — that's amazing. It's just very fortunate."

Authorities said the damage could take months to repair, and that it would cause the worst disruption for Bay Area commuters since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake damaged a section of the Bay Bridge itself.
It was Fark.com visitors who immediately picked up on the implications for conspiracy theory in this story, where fire had clearly weakened steel (enough to collapse a freeway overpass), proving that the 'theories' popularized by Loose Change et al (that the twin towers could only have collapsed via pre-set demolition charges since fires inside the buildings could not have reached an adequate temperature to weaken the structure) are utterly false and hereby proven so physically. No longer disproven only by mere circumstancial evidence such as the fact that a conspiracy of such a magnitude couldn't possibly be kept secret, as argued brilliantly by George Monbiot, and not merely by the fact that the conspiracy theory in question had to be studiously invented with ugly and visible stitch marks avoiding Occam's razor all the way...now after the Oakland fire, the only conspiracy theorists left are in fact actual conspiracists, engaged in an ongoing racket of inventing their own reality where they enjoy all the benefits of science without the pre-requisite of critically analyzing reality. Thus for them, the object of critique becomes the method of critique.

But this is no loss for the CT fringe, which of course existed in nuclei in variously libertarian, gun-clutching, anti-semitic and white supremacist guises far before people convinced themselves that the perpetrators of 9/11 were innocent of their greatest accomplishment. No, these lunatics will retreat back to exactly that line of acceptability that still permits them audience in the country historically responsible for the defeat of mid-century fascism. For the CTs it was an important foray, because their way of thinking was spread to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide (and the pre-requisite for the anti-semetic critique was laid; as a Fark poster put it, "Just blame the Jews and get it over with"). Daniel Kulla writes,

Any historian will abhor the inept mechanical history, any political scientist the personalisation, any social scientist the ignorance against the majority of people, any journalist the poor research - but by doing so they play the game. Conspirationists do not want to show the experts that they are equal or better experts, they seek recognition via the audience. They might break the rules applying for the respective profession but that is only of interest for those who are subject to these rules themselves, not for the layperson readers, TV watchers, cinema goers or event attenders. They will most often not know about these rules and with high probability they will be influenced in their judgement by conspirationist shindig, the pretension of authority I refer to as ‘travesty’. Sometimes if not often the audience will consider the conspirationist copy of science, history or journalism to be more scientific or adequate than the original.

Conspirationism manages to over-optimally emulate socially relevant structures on the level of their appearance. From their more or less marginal position, German protagonists of conspirationism usually present predigested information from US conspirology sources in a way that it forms a more consistent story and a more perfect system which then can be blamed for any personal failure. Having been defeated by these enormous historical powers makes any defeat somewhat heroic, but makes sure that no personal consequences are drawn from that defeat.

Conspiracy theory is the acceptance of defeat for the struggle against daily capitalist exploitation. It is loyalty to spectacular events that supposedly dictate everything but in fact draw power from our obsession with them. Marx described the dialectical method as a movement from the abstract to the concrete to the abstract to the concrete, progressively wearing away at levels of abstraction. In this case, the abstract was melted by the concrete, and society has the chance now to regain its senses and oppose the outrageous state of affairs that only survives by distraction.

*Note: I drink motherfucking Kirin Grand Ale, and it costs me an extra 30 yen for a smaller bottle of better beer. I'm not about to waste any of it on the 3rd grade physics of the 9/11 'truth' movement; hence the empty bottle.

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