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Latest Lunacies from the Only Democracy in the Middle East

Today’s news brings two new lunacies from our friends in the Only Democracy in the Middle East .  In the first instance, the Israeli tax authorities impounded a shipment of copies of the Arabic language edition of Yehuda HaLevy’s seminal work of medieval Jewish philosophy, The Kuzari.  They did so because the books had been printed in Lebanon, one of the few places in the Middle East that prints Arabic books.  The Israeli authorities claimed that allowing the books into Israel would constitute “trading with the enemy.”

The book, originally written in Judeo-Arabic, a medieval version of Arabic written using Hebrew characters (similar in concept to Yiddish), was translated as a seven-year, uncompensated labor of love by an Israeli-Palestinian PhD student at Ben Gurion University.  He explained to Akiva Eldar that Israel often looks the other way when Arabic books are imported from nations in the region with whom Israel has strained relations, including Lebanon.  In this case, they decided to make an example of poor Yehuda HaLevy.  Why?  Who knows.  It may be precisely because it was a labor of love by an Israeli Palestinian and the police wish to make an example of him.  It may be because they don’t like books in general.  History is full of regimes which liked to make examples of books.

Or maybe it was this particular book.  After all, it tells the famous tale of the Khazar king who was persuaded by a Jewish scholar to convert to Judaism.  There are those among anti-Zionists who like to argue that contemporary Jews don’t trace a direct lineage back to ancient Israel, but rather to the Khazars.  This is part of the ongoing battle between Zionists who feel the need to prove such a connection in order to justify the Jewish claim on Israel; and between those who feel that severing that historical connection of the Jews to the land of Israel will weaken their historical claims.

It’s entirely possible that some Shin Bet agent has studied a little too much medieval philosophy (not enough to understand the true power of the work, but too much to ignore it), and decided that the Kuzari is part of the Palestinian project of delegitimization of Israel.  As a result, Israel appears to be engaging in a cultural boycott not only of Arabic language books, but of one of the great Jewish medieval poets and philosophers.

Another terrible irony of this entire mess is that the original book and author represented the pinnacle of medieval Jewish learning and intellectual achievement.  This achievement happened in good part because of the environment in which Ha-Levi lived, which allowed Jews and Arabs to co-exist peacefully, even fruitfully.  Could this be yet another unconscious reason Israel feels the need to suppress an Arabic-language edition?  It needs to stamp out the historical example of a Jewish book written within an Arab society and in a language that combined both Arabic and Hebrew.  That much peaceful co-existence and cultural interchange could be scary to Israeli officials who prefer their state to be Arab-rein.

If this weren’t so insane it would actually be mordantly funny.

immigrants in detention center

Keeping out the immigrant hordes (AP)

The Jerusalem Post reports that the Ministry of the Environment has taken the pro-active step of commissioning scientists to examine the effect that climate change will have on Israel and the Middle East.  So far so good.  Until you recognize that the minister is Gilad Erdan, the very same Likud henchman who tried to skewer Meir Dagan in New York by calling him a political hack for questioning Bibi’s threats of war against Iran. Knowing that Erdan is such a lap dog will explain the mockery that his ministry has made of the science of climate change.

In this country, red-neck anti-science Republicans have similarly made a political football out of climate change.  But at least they’ve made a pretense of arguing scientific principles.  The Israeli report dispenses with science altogether and views climate change through the prism of the national security and the Israeli-Arab conflict:

In order to combat increased waves of illegal migration that will likely accompany climate change, Israel must secure its borders through impassable barriers, including “sea fences” along the Mediterranean and Red Sea, experts have concluded.

“The lack of water, warming and sea level rise, even if it will occur on a different schedule, will bring migration movements from all impoverished regions to every place where it is possible to escape this,” wrote a team of academics, led by Prof. Arnon Soffer and Dr. Anton Berkovsky of the University of Haifa’s Geography Department…

Among its suggestions for how to handle the geo-strategic implications of climate change, the team…called for a complete enclosure of Israel from all directions, including establishing sea fences along the Mediterranean and Red seas. In addition, the experts said that additional law enforcement will be required to deal with the ramifications of securing the Egyptian and Jordanian borders, as economic crisis might ensue for Negev Beduins who trade across these turfs. While securing Israel from all sides, however, the authorities must ensure for the safe passage of animals and plants.

…Soffer explained that the most troublesome spot in terms of migration to Israel is the Nile basin area, where a mixture of drastic climate changes and demographic explosions are pushing people to move northward. Meanwhile, they recognize that “Europe is completely under siege by the navvies,” so they cannot move in that direction.

…“I am one that fights for building fences all around Israeli borders,” he said. “We are an island – we don’t belong to this region, and we have to defend Israel from waves of migration from Egypt from Jordan and maybe from Syria. If we want to keep Israel a Jewish State, we will have to defend ourselves from what I call ‘climate refugees,’ exactly as Europe is doing now.”

After reading a passage like this you begin to wonder whether Soffer is a Stephen Colbert pseudo-scientist parody:

While the fences around Israel are necessary, according to Soffer, so too are corridors to allow the free passage of animals. Such passages, he said could be guarded by groups of soldiers for days at a time to allow the animals, such as snakes, to cross both ways.

So Israel will seal itself off from human aliens, but bestow mercy on the animals (non-human ones, that is).

Think of the psychological profile of a supposed learned scholar who thinks in such deeply paranoid ways of those surround Israel.  Think of the delusional thinking that allows him to believe that the solution to an epidemic is to turn Israel into a battleship that can fight off those who threaten it.  This, in effect is a transference of Israeli security policy into the realm of climate science.  Just as security policy is bankrupt so is this approach to a coming major catastrophe.

Note that Soffer doesn’t propose that Israel contribute scientifically so solving the problems of climate change.  He doesn’t suggest decreasing Israel’s carbon footprint or devising ways of lessening the world’s carbon emissions, all of which would help avert the crisis.  Instead, he merely suggests who to weather the human storm it will cause.  Soffer gives his nation, his discipline and science in general a bad name.  How can such racism infect someone who’s earned a position at a major Israeli university?

{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Ben May 15, 2012, 3:16 AM

    This is tragic.

  • Fred Plester May 15, 2012, 3:28 AM

    Another lunacy:

    Where do you think all that American military technology goes to after it’s been given to Israel at monumental cost to the American taxpayer. (And taxpayers in the UK in the case of F35 stealth and vertical takeoff technology.)?

    link to flightglobal.com

    Yep, straight to Mr Putin.

  • Deïr Yassin May 15, 2012, 5:12 AM

    Gilad Erdan, the Minister of Environmental Protection (another hasbara invention ?) is the guy who back in 2010 wanted to stop the construction of Rawabi, the only new Palestinian town in the West Bank since ’67 because of ‘environmental concerns’.
    In the meantime, settlers regularly dump their sewage directly onto Palestinian agricultural land and burn hundreds of olive trees without being bothered by the Israeli autorities who rather give them a helping hand.

    Erdan has another good plan: to cut the power supply to Gaza this summer:
    link to 972mag.com

    Oh, and Erdan was the guy who interrupted Azmi Bishara during a speech, shouting “Why don’t you go back to Syria”. Azmi Bishara answered: “And you, why don’t you go fuck yourself”. Well, the exchange was in Hebrew, and my Hebrew isn’t good enough to perceive the subtilities….but I think Bishara handled the insult pretty well. Guess who was evicted from the meeting.
    Afterwards Erdan commented “These [Arab MK] have gotten out of control”. He’s right: after all, Arabs are only allowed in the Knesset to show the world that Israel is The Only Democracy…

  • Ziyad Hayatli May 15, 2012, 9:06 AM

    I think Arnon Soffer was the same dude who thought of the “security fence” or “wall” currently around the West Bank firstly in 1999, and who suggested it to Sharon who in turn called it “the Bantustan plan”. It was called that because Soffer suggested that the wall and settlements be used to split the West Bank in three parts; north, south and Jericho isolated on it’s own.

    But yeah, interesting article. I only thought that Maimonides’ book “A guide to the perplexed” was in Judaeo-Arabic…

  • arbguy May 15, 2012, 3:15 PM

    This dosen’t seem quite right

    “They did so because the books had been printed in Lebanon, one of the few places in the Middle East that prints Arabic books.”

    • Fred Plester May 17, 2012, 4:15 AM

      Books are printed in many Arab countries.
      Nearly all of which scrutinize everything and censor anything remotely contentious. (Not always to “protect the regime”, more often it’s just to steer clear of the least form of controversy). This book wouldn’t have been printed in Saudia Arabia.

      Even if the Lebanese government were so disposed, they’d have trouble actually implementing a censorship regime on a country they only partially control. If Lebanon is the enemy, it’s because she is less repressive than Syria or Egypt.

      The article isn’t quite right, as you say, but it probably is true that this particular book wouldn’t have got printed anywhere except Lebanon. It’s not a profit-maker, either, so that must have constrained the list of firms willing to print it up at a price the author could afford.

      Time for an Arabic Smashwords?

  • Piotr Berman May 15, 2012, 5:32 PM

    I understand that publishers in Lebanon have fewest restrictions and it is the main center of printing translations into Arabic. So many Arabic books are printed only in Lebanon and embargo on Lebanese books has serious impact on Arab speakers under Israeli control.

    “Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, said that the “Kuzari” is a holy and pure book, and it contains the basics of the Jewish faith.”

    As the book trade of Lebanon is most free in ME, Israel is one of very few countries where books can be banned simply because of the place where they were printed. USA is surely banning Cuban books. By the way, there were number of votes in UN opposing embargo on Cuba, and quite a few had only three countries against: USA, Marianas and Israel. Three champions of liberty, perhaps saving the whole world from the wrath of the Lord.

    This is one of the lies of pro-Israel propaganda: Lebanon is a democratic country, with peculiarities, to be sure, but hard to tell if it is more peculiar than Israel. Another lie (repeated by Amb. Oren) is that Israel is the only country in ME where the number of Christian is increasing. The truth is that this is the only country in ME that makes detailed statistics.

    • Davey May 15, 2012, 11:54 PM

      I really like that: “Three champions of liberty…”! The usual vote: 164 for, 3 or 4 opposed depending on the very tricky iffy vote from the Marshall Islands!

      These Israelis are lunatics: The ghetto called “Israel” will now string a fence across the mediterranean (figuratively, I’m sure!). Security is the basis of messianic Zionism and now, apparently, the basis of science, as well. With sea levels rising, small wonder the WB is settled by Jews. It is just too much.

      (BTW — I will try to report my impressions of the Stand With US show at UCSD this evening.)

      • Richard Silverstein May 16, 2012, 2:42 AM

        Please do. Very interested to hear.

  • Liron May 15, 2012, 7:55 PM

    “There are those among anti-Zionists who like to argue that contemporary Jews don’t trace a direct lineage back to ancient Israel, but rather to the Khazars”

    Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People
    By Harry Ostrer
    Oxford University Press, 288 Pages, $24.95
    In his new book, “Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People,” Harry Ostrer, a medical geneticist and professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, claims that Jews are different, and the differences are not just skin deep. Jews exhibit, he writes, a distinctive genetic signature. Considering that the Nazis tried to exterminate Jews based on their supposed racial distinctiveness, such a conclusion might be a cause for concern. But Ostrer sees it as central to Jewish identity.

    Read more: link to forward.com

    • Richard Silverstein May 16, 2012, 2:52 AM

      You reacted in just the way hasbarists would, with an immediate grasping for any evidence that supports Jewish genetic homogeneity & an ancient tie to the land of Israel. All this interests me very little & it’s more harmful than otherwise to any reasonable, pragmatic approach to Israel’s future in the region. While Israel and Jews have always prided themselves on being different than their neighbors. While such “uniqueness” has its benefits, in the future such separation & alienation will do much more harm than good I’m afraid.

    • Deïr Yassin May 16, 2012, 6:16 AM

      The article in Forward was also published in Haaretz, and according to the author, Jon Entine, Harry Ostrer insists that the “biological basis of Jewishness” cannot be ignored.

      Bruce Wolman had an article last week where he used the article about the ‘proven Jewish genius’ – ironically – to explain the ‘genius’ of the Israeli judicial system.

      But what’s important: the commenter Rusty Pipes linked to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Jewish Genius and other Mythical Traits” that comes to a totally different conclusion about Ostrer’s work, that is “After studying actual Jewish genes, Harry Ostrer is dubious of a strong DNA-connection”.
      I confess right away: I have not read Ostrer, and I’m sure neither has Liron, but it might be that Entine/Forward/Haaretz have an agenda to push here.
      link to mondoweiss.net

      A commenter elsewhere about the same article:
      “According to Norton Mezvinsky, Judaism had its start in the Persian Empire of Cyrus – 537 BC. Is that why Bibi is so hot to get Iran ? He considers Iran the “Promised Land” of the genetically identifiable Jewish people.

      Once again, it never stops amazing me how much right-winged Zionists and Nazism have in common when it comes to racialist discourse.

  • Piotr Berman May 15, 2012, 8:59 PM

    link to jogg.info

    According to Ellen Levy-Coffman, Ashkenazi Cohens have in large majority common features of Y-chromosome that can be traced to ancient Palestine, while Ashkenazi Levites have a quite different dominant type of Y-chromosome that is actually rare in Middle East and most frequent in some tribes of Siberia, thus they could be descendants of Khazars. Also, another Y-chromosome type is frequent among Ashkenazi and is quite Siberian. This would attribute 20% of paternal ancestry of Ashkenazi to Khazars.

    She also explains that on the eve of demographic expansion of Ashkenazi, ca. 1200-1300 CE, there were about 25000 of them, so a group of 5000 Khazarian Jews could alter the genetic composition.

    Of those that descend from ME, it seems that a non-negligible group descends from Philistines, i.e. a non-Semitic population related to Greece and Turkey.

  • The Rahnameh May 17, 2012, 2:41 PM

    Only democracy where there is no opposition voice.

  • Joel May 17, 2012, 7:03 PM

    Desertification is real problem in Africa and no one should be surprised that Africans will flee their homes and migrate to Israel.

    How do you propose Israel protects her borders from illegal migrants?

    link to news.bbc.co.uk

    • Richard Silverstein May 18, 2012, 12:38 AM

      It should help stop climate change. It can’t wall itself off from the rest of the world as you’d prefer.

  • Joel May 18, 2012, 10:20 AM

    Israel has been planting trees (which absorb carbon) for many years.

    Meantime, hundreds of migrants are entering Israel illegally monthly.
    What should Israel do about these illegals (while she shrinks her carbon fingerprint)?

    • Richard Silverstein May 19, 2012, 12:22 AM

      Planting trees isn’t what I had in mind. What I had in mind was developing scientific solutions that will ease the burden of climate change.

      Israel, like all western countries, has a problem with migrants. If it wants to stop the problem it needs to join together with other wealthy nations to change economic conditions in the places from which the migrants originate. You can’t solve your problems with walls or dykes.

    • Davey May 19, 2012, 1:12 AM

      Why am I not moved by Israel’s problem with “illegals?” First, perhaps, because Israel has always found ways of dealing with those it doesn’t want or like much. In this regard, maybe instead of demolishing Palestinian homes, the homes can be turned over to the African migrants. Maybe? Secondly, from my point of view, most Israelis occupy land belonging to others and they are arguably “illegals” also.

      And then there is always the wall — just build it higher and higher. Better to have a nice high wall, with control towers like a prison wall, a prison to either keep all the Israelis in, or keep all the goyim out…the psychology of it is perhaps a little troubled.

      I know all about the planting of trees in Israel. My generation of American Jews grew up dutifully donating money to plant trees in Israel. When I grew up, I discovered that the planting programs had political as well as ecological goals. I tell you I was shocked, truly shocked, to find that some trees covered up the traces of Palestinian life.

    • Deïr Yassin May 19, 2012, 2:29 AM

      Yeah, Israel has particularly planted trees on top of destroyed Palestinian villages to hide their presence.
      Here’s a the example of Imwas (the biblical Emmaus) which was conquered in 1967:
      Imwas in 1958:
      link to palestineremembered.com
      Then please click on ‘next’ and see the following pictures from 1968, 1978, and 1988. That’s what Israeli tree-planting is about. Areas of the village are now covered by the famous Canada Park, financed by Canadian Jews.
      “Which absorb carbon”
      Yeah, that’s surely the reason ! No, it first of all is absorbing Palestinian water. Because in their obsession to hide Palestine and turn Israel into a Western country, they imported trees from Europe, not at all adapted to the Middle East, to recreate the Schwartwald and other forest from ‘back home’.
      Ilan Pappe has mentioned somewhere how as a kid his parents took him picknicking in a forest that reminded them of their native Germany.
      And when the imported pine trees on the Mount Carmel went on fire, ruins of Arab villages became visible.
      Tryng to paint Israel as a ecological paradise – while it’s a major ecological disaster, stealing water from the whole region – is simply a joke.

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