Posts tagged History

Academia and Zionism

In recent years the hotbed of protest on American campuses against Israel’s policy of Zionism and Apartheid has put the universities in a precarious position due to the economic relationships between these institutions and Israel. The academic world has not really dealt very professionally when it comes to voicing dissent against Israel and American policy in the Middle East. Besides the campaign of Alan Dershowitz to sabatoge and end Norm Finkelstein’s career at DePaul University, another case of academic bullying has occurred. This time Joel Kovel, the social scientist, has been suspiciously dropped from his affiliated university, Bard College. Joel Kovel wrote, Overcoming Zionism, a critique of the present day zionist movement and a call for a one state solution. This solution is fervently feared by Zionists because it would mean the end of a ‘Jewish’ state. This is ever more pertinent due to the rise of the Israel political party of Lieberman that wants to eventually expell Arab-Israeli’s from Israel.

The academic world was shaken in the 1950s when professors were required to sign loyalty oaths. Looking back, I am not sure anyone respects that movement. Academic freedom is supposedly one of America’s staples of proving what a ‘free’ society we have. It seems that the likes of the Israel Lobby bullies would like for all professors to sign loyalty oaths to Israel and Zionism! There is a website dedicated to stalking ‘radical’ professors that lie about Israel. There are facebook groups that monitor what they consider anti-semetic and anti-zionist propaganda on campuses. (it should be noted that I believe the two to be wholly differetn) One of the anti-semetic/anti-zionist posters? A simple green sticker reading ‘free palestine.’ Really? That is anti-semetic? It didn’t even say end Israel’s apartheid!

Clearly this is a hot issue right now, and sensitivities are boiling. I think that the larger issue of student activism on campuses is going to work its self out. Both ‘sides’ of the issue practice their freedom of assembly and speech, and while they get flack from the opposing voice, they are both pretty much on agreement that they both have the right to protest. (Even though they repeatedly call the others racist and want to ‘end’ that racism on campus- good luck)

But, when it comes to the firing, or the more diplomatic ways in which they ( the universities) ‘let go’ the blacklisted professors, I find the consequences more dire. It is too reminiscent of Cold War politics and censorship. The politics of tenure are probably ridiculous anyway, but adding  to it the fear of pertient and critical scholarship on one of the biggest trajedies of our time is beyond what I consider to be within the realm of acceptable practices.

The precendent of sabotoging the academic careers of Finkelstein and now Kovel is dangerous to the suppossed academic freedom that we want in our universities. I find it so funny when I read about different groups wanting politics to stay out of lectures! People should know, especially at the college level, that there are inherent politics in everything that you learn. Objectivity is a pipe dream, and essentially meaningless. There ARE politics in academia. Deal with it. And stop trying to silence and bully the scholars that are adding to the important public discourse of international and global affairs!


Here is Kovel speaking about the issue of Zionism and the taboo of honestly discussing the issues surrounding it


And here is Kovel discussing the attack of what he calls the Zionist Apparatus


Comments (2) »

History, Responsibility, and Justice

A French judicial committee recently declared French government responsible for deporting thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. Of course, everybody already knew that French police and government officials were all too willing to collaborate with the Nazi regime after France surrendered in 1940. But now, at last, the official courts of France declare that they were in fact responsible for deporting and arresting Jews for the ‘crime’ of being Jewish in France. One of the most forgotten and troubling aspects of French History has been the degree to which French citizens complied with the Nazi occupation. The Vichy government, under Marshal Petain, was sympathetic to the Germans after their punitive experience after the WWI Treaty of Versailles. In fact, France had been overrun with anti-Semetic sentiment for years, especially following the French loss after the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. The Dreyfus Affair soon followed in which a military officer was imprisoned for being a traitor was a pivotal case in Jewish History. The birth of modern Zionism came soon after. What Dreyfus was really guilty of was not being ‘french’ enough. The fact that he was Jewish detracted from his allegiance to France. And the pattern of Jewish people getting scapegoated for social problems and was losses continued.

And now fast forward to 1940 and the French quickly lost sovereignty to German Nazi forces, the French were all to quick to comply with the deportation of Jews. In fact, often it was not even Nazi orders which sent the jews in cattle cars, it was racist Parisian cops that participated in the deportation with gusto. Between 1941 and 1944, 75,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps and were often holed up in a Parisian event center while they awaited SS trains.


I remember wondering around the Marais when I lived in Paris, sensing the gravity of these peoples murder

"165 Jewish children of this school were deported to Germany during the second World War where they were exterminated at Nazi Camps----Never Forget" (doesn't say that it was the Parisian Police who did the arresting and deporting)


 So, France now finally admits officially that they were responsible in executing French Jews. This is long overdue. However, the court also ruled that Jewish families have already been compensated enough for these crimes and no further reparations are going to be paid. I don’t know if reparations equate justice. I’m sure they help, but punishing someone with money is not equal to punishing someone with deportation and death. I am not sure that justice has to be punishment. I personally feel that admitting wrongs and recognizing the truth is more important that money. I would also even say that money trivializes what was done. It is not as if monetary reparations can make it okay what the French government did.

This brings up the idea of reparations in general. There are still groups of black americans whom wish to be compensated for the 40 acres and a mule they never got. (plus interest) I am pretty sure that their campaign efforts could be better utilized towards current problems for the black community, such as the prison system, racial profiling, and inporportionate imprisonment and execution of black men. I think history is important for truth and understanding, but I don’t think it is necessarily for righting the wrongs of the past with money. It is a pipe dream. 

Instead of individual monetary justice, I think collective truth and justice is what France needs for its healing.

Either way, it is an important step for French history to recognize their awful part in the Holocaust. And, the issue of reparations will continue because there are many groups of people who are being persecuted unjustly right now, and perhaps in the future these governments will too come clean about their involvement.

Leave a comment »

Best Presidents? Please…

So apparently a group of Historians ranked presidents and Lincoln trumped the list. I don’t really have a problem with this sort of ranking of presidents. I guess it is a fun thing for historians to argue over. Its fine. Really.

BUT, I do think that it shows a lack of moral perspective when a man like James K. Polk is on the top ten  of that list, ranked as number nine. He is responsible for the illegal and unjust war against Mexico and the essential stealing or highly valuable land. Manifest Destiny, for which Polk was a cheerleader, is not something to be championed, or remembered for some sort of great feat. Manifest Destiny is the idea that America was ‘destined’ to spread from ocean to ocean. Where Polk and his followers came up with this divine plan is irrelevant. Polk’s expansionism and rightousness in America’s ‘destiny’ reminds me of Zionism. The idea that political and worldly borders are even in the concern of a higher being is laughable. 

The list writes of Polk:

Polk was one of the greatest presidential advocates of the idea that expanding the Union from the Atlantic to the Pacific was “manifest destiny”. Victory in the war with Mexico allowed the United States to acquire California, Nevada, and parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.  “Trounced the Mexicans and dramatically increased the size of the Union, all in one term.” Chris Ayres.

I don’t know who this Chris Ayres is, I think some celebrity reporter turned war correspondant, but he is hardly what I would call a ‘historian.’ And how is ‘trouncing’ Mexicans a good thing? This list that is being talked so much about because it ranked Bush 36th overall and 41st in international relations.I think it is dangerous to teach people that men like Polk were ‘good’ for the country. To be honest, I would rank George W. Bush before him. At least Bush didn’t support slavery and its expansion. I just take issue with celebrating such a terrible president and person like Polk. I guess one could say he was an influential president because he did expand America by instigating a war and stealing land, but one of the ‘greatest’? That’s terrible.

I don’t think people with any sort of intellectual inclinations give lists like these any attention, but for those who do, please know that James Polk represents what has made America have the reputation for being a nation that runs out ‘others’ so that it can increase its wealth and power. And, it might be noted, that Polk was from Tennessee and one of his main reasons for acquiring the territory from Mexico was so that he could expand slavery west within the guidelines of the Missouri Compromise of 1820. How are we going to say that the best president is the one who ended slavery while saying that the others in the top ten are the ones who expanded slavery?

But I guess this whole argument is as pointless as a list ranking American Presidents, because honestly all American Presidents acted in ways that hurt the American people and the world at large. Andrew Jackson personally murdered Native-Americans, FDR interned innocent Japanese Americans, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, and Truman dropped nuclear weapons on Japan and instigated an arms race that is still dogging world geopolitics.

But I take personal offense to the idea that James Polk was a great president. It was Henry David Thoreau who wrote in Civil Disobedience that the war in Mexico was unjust and it was the responsibility of American citizens to protest the injust state actively. Thoreau was imprisoned for a short time for refusing to pay taxes that went towards an unjust war that brutalized the Mexican people and sought to expand and support human slavery. Instead of honoring James K. Polk and his presidential and political cronies, I would suggest that we as Americans learn from people like Thoreau who stood up for justice and peace. The people in History that made America better than what it was are the thinkers and actors who protested the policies of our presidents. 

LBJ was probably the best president for civil rights, but he would not have been able to pass the civil rights legislation if it wasn’t for the people who advocated it, like Frederick Douglass, Paul Robeson, WEB Dubois, Ella Baker, MLK Jr, Malcolm X, and so on. The reason why Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States resonates with so many people is because it does not blindly champion presidents for the expansion and domination that has been the theme of American History.

The heroes of American History are not presidents, and are definitely not presidents like James Polk.

Leave a comment »

When do we start the clock?

Here is a very good video of Phyllis Bennis, a peace activist talking about historical amnesia and Gaza. She asks a very important question on how history plays a vital role in understanding the conflict in Gaza today. When you start the story of  the current conflict, gives you a different story. People can decide what it just and unjust by when they begin the story. And people will choose the history they wish in order to prove the point they want to make. Whether it is a Zionist American Jew trying to convince you that everything Israel does is justifiable, or a American Leftist who wants to convince you that Israel is breaking international laws and has been for years and years, people will use history for their own arguments and agendas.

I am obviously not excluded from this. I got a comment on my last blog entry about how I need to go back to ancient Israel in order to understand the current situation, and that might be entirely true, but I am not. A historian has to choose their focus, their time frame, and it is by individual historians looking in, that creates the picture one gets by looking out. What I do on this blog is not formal history. I don’t footnote and the writing style is very different. This is a casual endeavor and outlet for me to talk about things that I ponder, one of which is the larger problems of how history effects the present. No one historian has all the information or all the answers. No one person will ever be able to right a TOTAL history of the world. And if they could, no one would read it. What historians do is add small pieces of work to a collective pool of knowledge in the hopes that the sum will be greater than the parts.

Historians have often strived to be objective and tell the historical truth without any bias or taint. This has largely been a complete failure. If history were about a play by play of events it would be pretty meaningless, at least to me. Historians have the job to take information and evidence and make an argument. Historians do not write encyclopedias, they write academic and intellectual works that provide historical truth, not historical fact. Events and facts are interpreted and put together by the historian in order to submit an understanding of something the historian thinks is important. It is the job of the reader or the audience to decide if the argument is compelling or not. 

Back to Phyllis Bennis, she is a bold, opinionated, well-informed asset to the current peace movement and I think she does a good job of delivering her sense of what has happened in Gaza recently. This video is from the beginning of January, pre-Obama inaguaration and pre ceasefire.

Leave a comment »

Just a quickie… What is Zionism?

My answer when asked that question the other day was simple at first: Jewish Nationalism.

The problematic part of this definition is the Nationalism part. 

Inherent in all nationalisms is a sense of shared history, claim to a land, and a call for unification and defense against aggressive ‘others.’ 

I learned more about the rise of Nazism today. Some of the basic reasons were the punitive nature of the Versailles Treaty put Germans in an economic and political situation and the anti-semitism that blamed Jews for Socialism. If Nazism was Nationalist Socialism, Zionism in many ways is also. The first blueprints for Israel was to make it a Nationalist Socialist society.

And now the parallels with expelling populations and committing humanitarian crimes in order to achieve political and military agendas make the comparisons even more plenty.

I know how terrible it is for Jews to be compared to Nazis. Nazis were part of one of the worst ethnic cleansing plots in World History. But the collaborators and appeasements of the 1930s by other European nations bare some of the responsibility for the magnitude of the Holocaust. Likewise, nations that do not speak out against both Palestinian and Israeli atrocities and do what they can to stop the crisis in Israel and Palestine also bare some of the responsibility. 

Here is my point: Zionism does share historical similarities to Nazism. 

And another point is this: the death and destruction of World War II goes far beyond the 6 million Jews killed by Nazis. Estimations are that the lowest that probably perished in just the Soviet Union is 50 million, and that is just one country. Everybody suffered during the war, not just Jews. If we are to avoid the total war of last century, we need to thwart the power and rise of extreme nationalist movements, of which Zionism is one. Militant and Pan-Islam is another. I do not suggest we do this with war or violence, but with open and honest negotiations and diplomacy that I think can arise out of nations such as Israel and America becoming right sized and humble in the UN and become willing to give up their monopoly on International “moral” superiority, and listen to the UN when they say for instance, don’t invade Iraq or lets try in court countries who commit war crimes, even if those countries are Israel and America.

But here is a question for you…what does zionism mean to you?

I’m tired…just some thoughts for today 🙂

Leave a comment »

John Lewis on Obama

John Lewis was a leader of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

He led a nonviolent revolution to register black voters in the South in the 1960s.

His nonviolent tactics were met with police brutality.

Here he is on the night that Obama was elected.

Here is some hope, and historical perspective.

Leave a comment »

today in gaza…

 I won’t pretend to know anything new or have some great new insight on what is happening in Israel and Gaza right now, but I do want to say this. (my opinion of course)

Israel is wrong in trying to subdue violence with more violence.

To those who think that Hamas fired rockets with no provocation, well you don’t understand the situation of the Gaza Strip.

To them, they are being occupied by a foriegn power, and they are being cut off from food and health care supplies. Their entire existence in the Gaza strip is provocation for them.

There is a blocade around Gaza. They are in a constant state of war.

I don’t condone Hamas and their violence. In fact I think that Hamas is made up of militaristic fanatics, but this I know…the problems of the middle east go back further than Israel and its creation in 1948. The story of Zionism begins much earlier and the Arabic people who inhabited that specific region were not met with open peacful arms from the new settlers. Nationalisms of all kinds were developing in this era before the first World War. Zionism is a form of nationalism, which by definition are usually militaristic.  The Palestinian nationalism was born a bit later, but is just as significant to them as Zionism is to the Jews who subscribed to it.

Unfortunetly, the hawkish creation of the State of Israel, the Israeli War of Independance (or Al Nakba  meaning ‘catastrophe’ as the Palestinians refer to it), and the repeated acts of violence perpetrated on both sides (one as a response to the other) has led to a new generation of Palestinians who have grown up in an impoverished state, not allowed out, and with constant fear of Israel using their power to demoralize the Palestinian people. ( i.e. demolishing houses in occupied territories)

I truly believe that Israel needs to be the bigger country (um…because they are the bigger country) and refuse to fight terror with more terror. People are dying in Palestine by the hundreds, and although Israel says they are very sad for this…it is what needs to be done. What would you do if your house was under attack? Well, I know that I wouldn’t kill 200 people to save my own.

It is sad to see pundits on TV saying that a ceasefire would be meaningless, because they want a lasting peace and ceasefire. I think the little boys and girls who don’t die because of an immediate ceasefire would think it worth it. We absolutely need an immediate ceasefire which HAMAS has offered.( but the pundits won’t let you know this- they want you to think that HAMAS never offers anything in diplomacy)


…and to the new year and new president. America can’t keep giving money for arms to Israel. As an American I have little control over what Israel does, but Obama says he wants to hear us- the people- and so we need to tell him. STOP GIVING ARMS TO ISRAEL. We have to stop paying for the murder of palestinian innocents (although the pundits would have you believe that the large majority of causalties are terrorists- this is simply a lie)

And to those who ask me why I care so much about this conflict. How come I don’t write about the Iraqi conflict or African genocides…well…

my answer is this….Peace in the Israel/Palestine region of the world would be a such an immensly positive moment in world history. If we can solve this problem and create peaceful coexistance in this region- what could we not do?

I mean really imagine peace in Israel and a thriving Palestinian state.

Its almost unthinkable- but maybe we need to believe it is possible.

In order to invent anything- you have to have a belief in it first. Humans would never have been able to fly if people didn’t first invision it. So lets try to imagine peace in the middle east, because while some said it was impossible for planes to fly…they were clearly wrong…in fact I am getting on a plane tomorrow…

Goin to Nashville, Tennessee…should be interesting…

Comments (2) »