Friday, June 08, 2012

Awaiting shelving


I've been busy and travelling lately, so quiet here. Writing this listening to intense rain and wind outside in dark South London.

I want to blog about the recent Jews and the left conference in New York, but for the moment read Noga's post and TNC's comment. Also at Noga's, this lovely Lorca re-post. While I'm doing my housekeeping, thanks to Snoopy for this kind recommendation of my Chomsky/Monbiot post:
Bob from Brockley has done another great post. Which by itself is not a scoop, since with Bob it's kinda habitual. This time it's a great and amazing post. It will shake the found... aw, what the heck - just go and read it. Hurry.
Also on a housekeeping note, I need to shelve some of the links in my "awaiting shelving" section, some of which ought to be promoted to "comrades, friends and favourites". I thought about doing some filing, but felt defeated pretty quickly, but you should check out some of the things there.

For example, looking at Ben Cohen's pundicity, I notice he has not only written about Vidal Sassoon, but also Ed Miliband. And that reminded me I failed to get hold of the New Statesman's special Jewish issue a couple of weeks ago, so I tried to find it on-line but didn't have much luck. However, it did make me look at Rachel Shabi on Muslim-Jewish unity against the far right and Michael Rosen, "the accidental communist", on where he parted from Hitchens.


He also pointed me to this thoughtful conservative reaction to my near-neighbour Kenan Malik's Montenegro lecture on multiculturalism. I'm going to have to print out Malik's other recent things, specifically parts 1 and 2 of another overlapping lecture on multiculturalim (I wish I could write and think half as well as he does), as well as Lloyd Newson's defence of DV8's Can We Talk About This.

David Shraub is another blogger too prolific for me to keep up. Here he is on the evolution of Alan Dershowitz, for example. He reminded me of David Hirsh's wonderful article on "Portia, Shylock and the exclusion of Israeli actors from the global cultural community", which I can't recommend highly enough. 

David S also links to two extremely thought provoking pieces by Nancy Leong: a blog post asking "Is diversity for white people?" and a paper on racial capitalism.
Racial capitalism — the process of deriving social and economic value from racial identity — is a longstanding, common, and deeply problematic practice. ... The Article focuses on instances of racial capitalism in which white individuals and predominantly white institutions use non-white people to acquire social and economic value. Our affirmative action doctrine provides much of the impetus for this form of racial capitalism. That doctrine has fueled an intense legal and social preoccupation with the notion of diversity, which encourages white individuals and predominantly white institutions to engage in racial capitalism by using non-white people to acquire social and economic value. ... The process of racial capitalism requires commodification of racial identity, which degrades that identity by reducing it to another thing to be bought and sold. ... And the superficial value assigned to non-whiteness within a system of racial capitalism displaces measures that would lead to meaningful social reform. 
It's Complicated links to a very interesting article by Martha Gelhorn, who I've always hated as a Stalinist fellow traveller, and finishes by commenting on some winners of the award named after her: John Pilger,  Robert Fisk, Julian Assange and Jonathan Cook. Talking of Israel, Souciant has a piece by Mitchell Plitnick on what the occupation has done to create "fertile ground for xenophobia". Here's what he says on the anti-migrant riots:
In today’s Israel, we can add economic stratification, thanks to years of neoliberal policies imported from the United States and Great Britain. Then we throw in the fact that Israel, with the most open and diverse economy in the region by far, is naturally going to attract those who flee their own countries, and we have a perfect recipe for the hatred that boiled over in Tel Aviv this past week. 
The events in the Hatikva neighborhood in South Tel Aviv (an ironic name for a poor neighborhood; “hatikva” means “the hope”) are hardly unique to Israel, of course. The crowds were composed of the working class of Israel (the majority of whom are Mizrahim, Jews of Middle Eastern descent, Ethiopian Jews and other, non-European groups,) a class which is increasingly struggling to make ends meet and which sees its own position as being threatened by Sudanese and Eritrean refugees. These Israelis have watched their social safety net fray and tear, and their leaders make sure to keep that fact separate in their constituents’ minds from the massive amounts of shekels that are poured into the settlements.
In keeping with their xenophobic rhetoric, demagogic leaders of mainstream political parties incite against the migrants, using false crime statistics in order to scapegoat the Africans, calling them a “cancer.” This is just an Israeli version of a pattern of racial hatred that is very familiar to Europeans.
OK, that's more than enough for now. 

[Image credit: London Incognito]

15 comments:

Deptford Pudding said...

How did you get hold of picture of my front room.

bob said...

@Pudding: I didn't realise we share a front room!

The Contentious Centrist said...

"These Israelis have watched their social safety net fray and tear, and their leaders make sure to keep that fact separate in their constituents’ minds from the massive amounts of shekels that are poured into the settlements."

What a way to outsource responsibility. The author speaks as a leftist and all he has to say is regurgitate the same old tired truths he holds sacred. As if the Israeli left does not bear a moral responsibility in the matter as well. I have not seen much care from the Israeli Leftists for the disenfranchised Mizrahi Israelis who have been suffering from being disadvantaged from the moment their parents and grandparents set foot in Israel in the fifties. Consigned to refugee camps (maabarot) for years before being dumped in frontier developing townships or slums like Hatikva, where education was of the lesser quality and opportunities lesser still. Those who are in most need of social justice are not the constituencies that vote for the likes of Meretz or Hadash. They vote for Shas, which at least makes an effort to provide hot meals and milk in the schools. Read Ben Dror Yemini about how those Israelis who need social justice are treated with contempt and loathing by those who scream social justice (not unlike the snide innuendos about "racial hatred" suggested by the author in Bob's link).

Apparently the Left in Israel has lots of compassion for every kind of underdog in the region, be them illegal immigrants from Africa, or poor Palestinians so none is left for the long suffering and socially stigmatized Israeli Jews of Arab countries, especially those who have not managed to break through the walls of contempt that Ben Gurion's integration policies have erected around them. Read again how the darker colour of their skin is a way to denigrate them as racists.

The Contentious Centrist said...

Here is an example of how this ironic inversion works:

"And still on the same subject. Gal Ochovsky, on his television show, conducted a terrible racist interview with Ronen Shoval from “Im Tirtzu”.** “You are such an Ashkenazi , he told him “with blue eyes”. And that really is wrong that this young man with his Aryan looks should behave like the barbarians and the Feiglins. In the mind of the enlightened Ochovsky in order to be a dangerous racist you need to be dark skinned, dark-eyed. Though, in fact, Feiglin has blue eyes, too. This won’t do any good. Ochovsky has solid opinions about blond blue-eyed people. For him they are über alles and that was just for starters. There was no interview there, only an unleashed fulmination, cringing support for and self-ingratiating to Bakri, the great actor, and analogizing “Im Tirtzu” to McCarthyism and the benighted thirties. So said the man who loves the Aryan look."

http://contentious-centrist.blogspot.ca/2012/02/normal-0-when-boycotters-are-boycotted.html

To be blunt about it, the problem with Israeli leftists is their inferiority complex. They want to be seen to be different and superior to other Israelis, the sweaty masses, the Levantine Jews, much in the same way Arendt explains her understanding of the "exceptional Jew". There is nothing sexy and ennobling about supporting the Mizrahi Jews who are mostly hawkish in their politics. The Israeli left wants to be seen as "European", importing European concerns about racism and such and bullying the poorer and weaker classes in Israeli society into being ashamed for longing for some peace and safety on their miserable streets. As if these protestors do not have any legitimate grievances beyond "racism".

There should not have been violence against anybody in the riots but the fact that demagogues get a hearing is due to the absence of other sympathetic cooler voices who would come to these beleaguered slums dwellers and tell them that their issues are important and in urgent need to be addressed and then do something about it.

Enough already. When was the last time Amos Oz or someone like him, came to Hatikva or for that matter, Sderot to speak, to help, to read maybe a story to the kids in their criminally overcrowded, concrete jungle schools? There is more prestige in being seen in the West Bank, "helping" Palestinians (who never stop calling for Israel's destruction and who celebrate the terrorists who murder Jewish kids) pick olives, than to devote time and affection for the poor and truly desperate in their own cities.

Darker skin signifies racist only when the bearers of it are Israeli Jews, I suppose.

bob said...

You're right. I think the failure of the Israeli left to have prevented the right-ward turn in Israeli politics is founded on and symbolised in its failure to ever reach out to the Mizrahi population across what you so well express as a wall of contempt.

Actually, the situation closely parallels that in Britain in some ways, in the quote in the post immediately above this one, of the rise of fascism emerging in the vacuum created by the abandonment by the left of actual working class people - not being in the tower blocks, as the post I quote puts it - an evacuation largely towards various romanticised attractions to every kind of underdog and their identities apart from the ong suffering and socially stigmatized actually existing white working class. That's a simplification, obviously, but not too drastically.

bob said...

I don't agree, though, with the start of your first comment, on outsourcing responsibility. It's surely not either/or: surely it's the failure of the left AND the fraying of the safety net and draining of resources into occupation and settlement? I suppose the latter are partly a result of the failure of the left to stop them, but not the *responsibility* of the left?

The Contentious Centrist said...

"... draining of resources into occupation and settlement? "

I would suggest to you that withdrawal from and maintenance of the border between Israel and whatever lies east of the line will be exponentially more expensive than anything taking place today. How long should people wait to have their integrity and self esteem and moderate opportunities for a better future restored to them? How come the Palestinians come first? Or the Bedouins in the Negev? And now the illegal immigrants? I need a rational answer for this question.

Richard Powell said...

Aren't you a little harsh on Gellhorn? A leftie, perhaps, and why not? But surely no Stalinist - her reporting of the Soviet invasion of Finland clearly sided with the Finns, for example. (Whereas the saintly Hobsbawm wrote in support of the attempt to crush a Nordic democracy.)

bob said...

re CC:

Very good question.

I would suggest to you that withdrawal from and maintenance of the border between Israel and whatever lies east of the line will be exponentially more expensive than anything taking place today. How long should people wait to have their integrity and self esteem and moderate opportunities for a better future restored to them?

It is true that withdrawal will have its own fiscal costs and that there will be new security challenges. Is it, though, the case that these will outweigh the costs of occupation? And even if this is true, the subsidies that have gone into the settlements, with no benefits whatsoever to the Israeli majority, have themselves been enormous.

So, I was probably wrong to conflate occupation costs and settlement costs too quickly. However, this was also coupled with the fraying of the social safety net (that was a quote from the article). The costs of occupation, the costs of subsidising the settlements, and the general policy of austerity that recent Israeli governments (like almost all European governments) have followed between them create a social situation in which the integrity and self esteem and moderate opportunities for a better future are attenuated for the vast majority of Israelis, not a million miles different from what is happening in the UK under the Tories, what has happened in Italy under the PdL and so on. Hence the space for the growth of a politics of resentment which is one of the drivers for right-wing/xenophobic populist growth.

How come the Palestinians come first? Or the Bedouins in the Negev? And now the illegal immigrants? I need a rational answer for this question.

I don't believe that the Palestinians or Bedouins or illegal migrants come first. I don't see why there should be an either/or here. I would say that there is a need for a politics and set of policies that addresses the day to day concerns of the Israeli "99%", not least the Mizrahim in the townships and slums, but also that works towards the possibility of peace. I don't see a contradiction.

And (re-)building the social safety net while doing nothing to achieve lasting security through peace and reconciliation is also only ever a short-term solution, no?

bob said...

re Richard,

Almost certainly a little harsh. To be honest, in am not in the least qualified to dismiss Gelhorn, and perhaps I owe her a re-evaluation. I kind of had her down as a Stalinist fellow traveller, but don't really have any idea how I came to that conclusion. Presumably something to do with her position in/on Spain - see http://www.wsws.org/articles/2012/jun2012/hemi-j09.shtml and http://www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosmanor/?m=20120530

The Contentious Centrist said...

Bob: You did not really understand the gist of my question and so your answer doesn't address my concern. My complaint, my beef, is with the Israeli Left which has never made the plight of the Mizrahi Jews a number one priority and not even a number three priority. The Tel Avivian Left, the tres chic caviar eating latte drinking Leftists, have never given a passing fart (pardon my language) for the suffering, the erosion of dignity and the debilitating contempt that the dwellers of development towns and the slums of Tel Aviv have to bear. And I mean, never. But their hearts bleed profusely for poor Palestinians. So who is going to care for these underclasses? Shas is a very bad solution for them. But so far it is the only party that actually cares for them in any basic way. For some reason, Palestinians can behave like terrorists in fact and in the making and all you get is excuses from the very people who unleash their most venomous hatred against the Hatikva residents for doing a great deal less, after having asked and pleaded repeatedly for help in dealing with infiltrators who were just dumped on them out of nowhere. As if they don't have enough trouble trying to make a living and maintain a semblance of civil life and culture under those awful circumstances.

But of course making noise on behalf of Palestinians is very fashionable and oh so very European! It is really that simple. You would need to grow up among these people to really understand the depth and desperation of their need to be seen as white and European. (In grade 5, a teacher telling me: what? You are Sephardic? I would never have guessed! Thinking she was paying me such a great compliment.)

These people are forgotten. They were simply discarded. Forgotten refugees, discarded immediately as second class citizens in Ben Gurion's Israel, mocked and derided for their Rightist political positions (the famous Dudu Topaz's so called slip of the tongue "chahchahim shel Begin"), and continuing to these days with the general Aleihum by the very people who should have been there for them from day one.

The Contentious Centrist said...

I wrote about it once in my blog:

http://contentious-centrist.blogspot.ca/2012/03/about-disgrace-of-bigotry-hypocrisy-and.html

bob said...

Re "chav": the short answer is that it was originally a working class term (of Romani origin) for a mischievous kid, it increasingly came to mean worse than mischievous. In the early 2000s, it became a popular middle class term for the disreputable classes - bling jewellery, tasteless clothes, junk food, anti-social behaviour. Author Owen Jones, among others, argues that it is a term of class contempt, and more or less a racist term for the white working class. (In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the lexicon overlapped with that middle class Ashkenazim in Israel use for working class Mizrahim.) More under this label: http://brockley.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Proles%20and%20chavs

bob said...

Re Israel, I don't think I misunderstood, as I basically agree with your last comment, to the extent I'm qualified to have an opinion.

My point was that this is true, but ALSO that the Ashkenazi middle class/left's ethnic/class contempt for the Mizrahim is is not THE (only) cause of the bad situation in the slums and townships, as you put it, but that austerity policies and lop-sided use of resources to fund settlements are ALSO part of the problem. (Another lop-sided use of resources being funding for Haredi infrastructure of no social value to the non-Haredi majority of Mizrahim. Indeed I believe I've read about haredi Mizrahi children are actively excluded from many haredi schools?)

--

Maybe two caveats/qualifications.

1. From my limited knowledge of the Israeli left, I feel there are some who at least talk a lot about structural discrimination against Mizrahim. I'm thinking of people like Oren Yiftachel.

2. More recently, Israeli and ex-Isreali leftists have been using the Mizrahi plight as a stick to beat Israel with. I'm thinking of Rachel Shabi, who comes from a Sephardic background.

The Contentious Centrist said...

Shabi if I remember correctly is of Iraqi source. Mizrahi, yes. I consider her a malignant thinker who suffers from exactly the same disease I attribute to the Ashkenazi Left: the longing to be accepted into a certain class of people considered fashionable and "prestigious". Arednt's "exceptional Jew" syndrome.

I still maintain that you are missing the gist of my comment. My beef is not with the entire Ashkenazi elite per se, but with those who have embraced so thoroughly a Leftist worldview and then instead of applying their basic convictions of human dignity and social justice to the weak of their own nation directly walked over those underclasses and their history, to the Palestinians as their main and exclusive focus. The only time they are aroused to "defend" Mizrahi culture is when they spot an opportunity to beat someone on the Right who made some disparaging comment.

As an example: A recent kerfuffle ensued when the singer/actor Yehoram Gaon, himself a Sephardic Jerusalemite of several generations (like AB Yehoshua) but holding hawkish views, commented on some of the current Mizrahi song culture as empty and stupid (a judgment I concur with). All of a sudden all those Ashkenazi Leftists were galvanized into action and he became the most toasted of pariahs in the media. There was a very false and condescending tone to this sudden concern for Mizrahi dignity from the very people who usually find language insufficient to express their contempt. Hypocrisy par excellence. But Gaon very effectively managed to cut them to size.

Bigotries are not exclusive to any class or ethnicity. I expect people who speak of high ideals to be aware of their own bigotries and deal with them before they start preaching to others. And as the Talmud says: the poor of your own city have first claim to your compassion.