The weekend miscellany

Villains of the week

Obviously, I have been a bit obsessed with Gilad Atzmon this week and his local acolyte, John Hamilton's Telegraph Hill ant-Zionist choir, the Strawberry Thieves. Atzmon, incidentally, is endorsed by right-wing foreign policy wonk John Mearsheimer, who was a disciple of Henry Kissinger, who, it has just been revealed, called the Jews self-serving bastards in 1972.

My other villains of the week are the Israeli right, both the theocratic right and the ultra-nationalist right. Every week, I find the news from Israel more disheartening. As Mira says, not everything in Israel is complicated: the shutting down of a pro-peace radio station, eroding press freedomthe dispossession of the Bedouin, a proposed ethnically exclusive Israeli identity law, the removal of images of women from the streets of Jerusalem, the spread of gender segregation in public space, as well as the ridiculous proposed NGO law. A few years ago, I would never have thought I'd see Tzipi Livni as one of the good guys. Here she is"We have always prided ourselves on being the only democracy in the Middle East. We were a democracy, and the others were dictatorships," she said. "While Egypt is trying to become a democracy like us, we're passing laws that will turn Israel into a dictatorship."

Heroes of the week

I only just read about this appalling incident in St Louis, in which an Iraqi poet, Alaa Alsaegh, who converted to Christianity was dragged for his car and had a Star of David carved into his back in revenge for an Arabic poem, "Tears inside the Holocaust" posted on Nonie Darwish's Arabs for Israel website. It should not be an act of great bravery to write a poem in America, but sadly it is.

Another hero this week is Aliya’a Magda el-Mahdi, the Egyptian blogger who posted pictures of herself naked as an act of resistance to the growing power of Islamism in Egypt. The revolution continues in Egypt, where Islamism on the one hand, and the military junta on the other, stamp down on freedom. So, the people of Eygpt are the other big hero for the week. Here's some links from Entdinglichung:
And one more from Abu Faris, introducing another hero, Alaa Abd El Fattah.

Ambivalences of the week


The RCP's Brendan O'Neil keeps up his barrage of interesting contrarian negativity about the Occupy movement. Here he gets curmudgeonly about the hubris of the movement in comparing itself to the civil rights movement. Some of his points I agree with, others not. Barry Rubin is, of course, even more negative, and this piece channelling Karl Marx on Wall Street is worth a read. Terry Glavin is negative too and a great read. eM is more ambivalent, with a wonderful piece on Occupy Seattle. Roland is also ambivalent. Read his report from the West Coast.


I would be extremely wary of reading the Independent without a pound of salt at hand. If what they say is correct, that "Israel shuts liberal radio station in attempt to silence criticism of right" then I doubt ANY paper or TV station in Israel would survive. Almost without exception, all media and news outlets in Israel are well anchored in the Left and criticism of the Rightist government is their bread and butter. But it sounds good, and feels even better, isn't it, to blame the closing of a piratical radio station on scary censorship and attempts at silencing. Like there is anything so radically truthful is being disseminated there that cannot be found in gallons elsewhere, everywhere, in Israeli media.


"For decades, many people in Israel have been wondering why right-wing governments are generally unable to implement their policies and often end-up adopting the rhetoric of the Left. [-]

The answer to this riddle was provided by Tel-Aviv Law Professor Menachem Mautner in his book “Law and Culture in Israel at the Threshold of the Twenty-First Century” (Tel-Aviv University Press, 2008): The Israeli Left lost its monopoly on power with the electoral victory of the Right in 1977, and it has successfully tried to keep its influence via the judicial system, academia and the media. At the Supreme Court, Judges are selected and appointed by Judges, and they have granted to themselves the right to repeal laws deemed “unconstitutional” (regardless of the fact that Israel has no constitution). Hence the “judicial activism” epitomized by Justice Aharon Barak: if the majority does not legislate according to the will and worldview of the “enlightened ones” (to use Barak’s own words), then laws must be repealed by self-appointed judges who know better.

In academia, it is virtually impossible for conservative-minded academics to get tenure in the social sciences and in the humanities outside of Bar-Ilan University. As for “dissident” journalists, there is hardly a payroll to be found outside of Makor Rishon and, more recently, of Israel Hayom."
TNC said…
CC writes:

"The Israeli Left lost its monopoly on power with the electoral victory of the Right in 1977, and it has successfully tried to keep its influence via the judicial system, academia and the media."

Sounds very similar to the criticisms made by the right in the U.S.

Bob, I wrote something on OWS that is up at Roland's. It incorporates some of the comments on Sunshine's piece that I sent to you via email. It is nice to blog after all this time. Let me know if you are open to a guest post.
I'm not sure the American Right has much to complain about. The TV station with the best ratings is Fox news, as I understand, outstripping both CNN and MSNBC. And CNN is not exactly a Leftist mouthpiece.
bob said…
TNC, certainly am open for a guest post. Sorry about my slack e-mail response times!

Read the peice at Roland's and have a few things to say about it - to follow soon hopefully!

"The Israeli Left lost its monopoly on power with the electoral victory of the Right in 1977, and it has successfully tried to keep its influence via the judicial system, academia and the media." Sounds very similar to the criticisms made by the right in the U.S.

I think the right in America have some justification for thinking this, but are wrong. It's certainly the case that in disciplines like sociology and anthropology and perhaps literature, and the newer things like cultural studies, it is probably hard for a conservative academic to get ahead. However, in disciplines where it matters like international relations, economics, political science, the right is pretty powerful in the academy. The media in America seems very far from left-leaning, and the broadcast media, where most people get their information from, is the least hospitable to left-wing views. I can't comment on the judiciary.
bob said…
Oh, and, I agree that the Indy is to be read with a very large portion of salt on any Middle East topic.
bob said…
But the specific story about the pirate radio station seems to be corroborated. Of course, the Indy is giving it a particular spin, which could be disputed.
TNC said…
CC and Bob: I think it is helpful to differentiate what is right-leaning (or left-leaning) in the Canadian and UK media context from the US. US political culture is more right-leaning than Canada or the UK. However, our media does not reflect this. Instead, most mainstream media reflects a liberal-left bias, especially on social issues. For example, gay marriage, abortion, etc. are generally supported/defended while opponents of these things are presented as backward, reactionary, etc.

Moving away from mainstream liberalism, there certainly is a reluctance to have socialist, communist or anarchist viewpoints expressed or discussed. But I think the same could be said the further one moves away from mainstream conservatism.

One major exception to this rule is the radio. Conservative talk dominates the AM frequency and there are voices representing everything from mainstream conservatism (Hannity, etc.) to isolationist populism (Michael Savage). On the FM we have NPR (very middle of the road liberal) and Pacifica (loony left).

CC: Fox News has the best ratings of any cable news station. But I think most of us still get our news from one of the three major networks. NBC in particular has been incredibly soft on Obama, esp. when compared to the treatment they gave our previous president. But ABC and CBS generally lean left as well.

One telling example for conservatives is the treatment the Tea Party rallies received (very negative) and the attention given to OWS (generally positive). This despite the fact that there have been serious criminal acts occurring at the OWS camps. This was largely ignored by the national networks. FOX News is the only cable network that is paying a lot of attention to this.

Bob: It depends on the school. I can tell you without reservation that many depts. of Polsci are dominated by lefties. I think this is the case for most of the Cal State and University of California systems. Sure there are conservatives at some of the top private schools: University of Chicago, Stanford, etc. but the depts. in the public schools definitely lean left.

I am less familiar with IR depts and agree with your assessment of Econ.

Lastly, I am not sure what you mean by "disciplines where it matters". Are these the disciplines that matter b/c they have an impact on domestic and international policy? The reason I ask is these other disciplines have had an important impact on the academy whether in the realm of required "core" courses (multicultural studies), hiring/tenure decisions, and the general atmosphere prevalent on campuses in the US today (the ban on so-called "hate speech" being one example).

Don't worry a/b the lag on replying to my email. Glad to hear you are open to a guest post.
In his desire to smear the occupy movement, Barry Rubin shows that he might have read the standard stuff from the Communist Manifesto, but he's obviously never touched _Capital_, and certainly not Volume III. Here's a choice Marx quote. Fake anti-nationalists and other "critical critics" won't like the parts I put in bold type:

"The credit system, which has its focal point in the allegedly national banks and the big-money lenders and usurers that surround them, is one enormous centralization and gives this class of parasites a fabulous power not only to decimate the industrial capitalists periodically but also to interfere in actual production in the most dangerous manner -- and this crew know nothing of production and have nothing at all to do with it."

Karl Marx, Capital Vol. III
Bob: I didn't claim that the story itself was a lie. I was merely suggesting that the "spin" (which I call slander) you are suggesting is a lie. That the station was closed, yes. That it was done for "silencing" (imagine against an ominous fascistic music) I seriously doubt. It's ridiculous to silence one tiny insignificant outlet while all other big national outlets are blaring out in full blast every conceivable criticism of Bibi's government.
And another thing: Do you think the Independent (or you) would give a rat's ass about "silencing" if the station closed belonged to die-hard settlers disseminating calls for IDF soldiers to disobey orders, or whatever?
bob said…
TNC- Yes, when I said depts that matter, that's what I meant. I agree that other depts count in the ways you say, but in terms of real power in the world, top economics, IR and political science depts in elite American universities wield a fair amount of juice.

CC- I'll probably have to concede this was not the best example to use, and no I wouldn't care much to defend an illegal settler radio station (and I know there are such - I don't know if they are under threat). But the direction of travel, away from the healthy plurality of voices that has characterised the Israeli media, seems clear to me.

NP- Thanks. Btw, I don't in any way endorse Rubin's article, and noted his ignorance and distortion of Marx too, altho I've certainly not read Volume III myself. " Fake anti-nationalists and other "critical critics" " - nice phrasing. I realise something happened to the comments I wrote in reply to your ones on the last one. I'll try to work out what happened to them.
"But the direction of travel, away from the healthy plurality of voices that has characterised the Israeli media, seems clear to me."

Forgive me for insisting, bob, but I have to disagree with you. I suspect by "plurality" you mean the various shades of Left wing arguments, and I don't think you worry about the fact that positions and opinions from the Right do not find many platforms from which to be heard. So if one media outlet gets shut down, on the grounds of operating illegally, you go all blue in the face about it, worrying about diminishing "plurality". And it is all in your imagination. With respect.
bob said…
I don't think I went blue in the face. The post was not about the radio station closure; that was one example in a list of several. Another one was that "The dean of one of Israel's media studies schools has quit her post as a member of the Government Press Office's advisory council in protest of obstacles it places before freedom of the press." Eva Berger resigned over a number of issues, including the involvement of security forces in who can get journalist credentials, proposed libel law changes, and the Channel 10 debt issue.

These were the only two stories about press freedom, which is very much a side issue compared to the more serious issues around the proposed identity law and the other right-wing attempts to make Israel an exclusive Jewish state and not a democracy, as well as the seperate issue of the growing power of the Haredim, and the on-going issues of settler violence, human rights abuses towards Palestinians, and the dispossession of the Bedouin. These issues are worth going blue in the face over.

To be clear, it is undeniable that Israel's media is the most free in the region and one of the most free in the world. It is far healthier than many European states, perhaps than the European norm. All of the other criticisms I have listed above are also nothing compared to the charge sheet against Assad's Syria, or even the post-revolutionary military junta in Egypt - let alone Hamas. Hamas has closed about 30 press organisations during its years of misrule in Gaza and has arrested journalists since in the last few days.

I am not judging Israel by a different standard. I have several posts about the struggle for democracy in the rest of the Middle East, and very few on the erosion of democracy in Israel. But saying we should judge Israel in comparison to the actions of Hamas or Saudi Arabia is setting the bar unacceptably low.

However, press freedom is one small element of the negative spiral of Israeli politics. The proposed libel law ("Defamation Prohibition Law", supported by Netanyahu), whose first reading passed by a majority, seems a law designed to protect politicians and corporations and weaken the press. Even the right-wing MK Uri Orbach, called it "a profitable deal for Knesset members, ministers, dignitaries ... I almost beg you: slander me". And there is also the amendment that has passed three readings that would require journalists to petition the court to report the names of people charged with criminal offences, which I think would be unique in a democracy if enacted.

And then there's Channel 10: "Officials in the Israeli prime minister's office told Channel 10 that it would be willing to postpone debts the channel owes the state if it either sacked Raviv Drucker, its chief political commentator, or sent him on indefinite unpaid leave, sources at the network said." - although this story has been denied by the government.

Even the radio station closure, which the Independent spun in a highly partisan way, seems quite clearly politically motivated and not merely about licences: Likud's Danny Danon took credit for pressuring the relevant authorities into closing it. And the reason for paying attention to it is that the radio station was a Jewish-Arab joint initiative. I feel that no peace is possible without going through joint activities.

And I haven't looked yet past the headlines about yesterday's story about the pregnant NYT reporter and her X-ray ordeal. Nor have I spent any time reading about the cases of Israa Salhab and Raed al-Sherif, two Palestinian journalists released yesterday after being held in detention for two weeks for interrogation and never, as far as I can see, charged.
bob said…
One other point, relevant to both CC and TNC, is the issue of circulation. In Britain, there are good quality newspapers with independent, critical stances, but these have pretty small circulations. Where do people in Israel get their news? I know that Yedioth Ahronoth is the highest circulation paper in Israel by far. I can only judge it by YNet's English content, but it seems quite good, but hardly a hotbed of leftism, and I don't know how it compares to broadcast media both as a source and in terms of circulation.
Broadcast media is very Leftist. It is almost hysterically so. Israelis are rather savvy about these things. Despite the constant spin, they can sift what are the facts from the spin. Which is why, I suppose, all this frustration from the media, that they cannot dominate the public discourse the way they want.
If there is a risk in the long term to Israel's democracy, it will be from what the Israeli journalist Ben Dror Yemini called the "talibanization" of Israel's society. The growing power of the Charedi segment in Israel's society due to the disproportionate influence Charedi parties have on Israel's politics due to the coaltion system. This influence can be easily averted if Israel had a more representative type of system, which would reflect more accurately the fact that 80% of Israelis are secular and have little interest in enacting halachic laws or empowering crazy rabbis. After the cottage cheese protest and the awakening of Israelis to their power to force the powers-that-be to take note, I have great hopes that such a movement will soon begin to form. My other hope is that such a movement will not be corrupted by Leftists who will probably insist on inserting the Palestinians into the discussion which has nothing to do with them.