May 05, 2009

Jonathan Freedland, obtuse or dishonest? We report, you decide.

Jonathan Freedland is not against boycotting Israel per se. Or he is but he does not say so explicitly in this hypocritical hatchet job. Like an Egyptian border police enforcing the siege of Gaza, he is deeply concerned that we "boycotters" made a mistake or two on the application form. Nothing if not fetching, he will show us how to do it right the next time! While we are working, the door behind him remains locked. Behind the locked door children are burnt with white phosphorous, old men are shouted at and humiliated by contemptuous soldier boys, land is "redeemed" and human hopes are crushed. But why should we blame him? He is just sitting at the gate and doing his job, looking for the uncrossed t's and undotted i's in every demand for justice--and when not finding them, inventing them!

What then are these horrible, damning "mistakes" we boycotters made?

First, Freedland is shocked, shocked to discover that Omar Barghouti, one of the leaders of the B.D.S. movement, who is a citizen of Israel but not an Israeli (because Israel is the kind of state where citizenship doesn't make you a national of the state), is enrolled at Tel-Aviv University (i.e. a university in his country, built on the ruins of the ethnically cleansed Palestinian village of Sheikh Munis). This, according to His Border-Policeness, is "a blow to their credibility".

Now, had he done his homework, he would have known that, for example, Kobi Snitz, Rachel Giora, Anat Matar and Irit Katriel among others, who advocate academic boycott of Israel, are all holding teaching positions at Israeli universities. But of course he does know (or should know) that, because he actually writes about the call to Leonard Cohen to boycott Israel and they are among those who wrote and undersigned a letter to Leonard Cohen. So why does he pick on Barghouti? Is it because Barghouti is a Palestinian student and might be more vulnerable than a Jewish professor? Is it because Freedland would rather not inform the readers of the Jewish Chronicle that the B.D.S. campaign is supported by many Jews and many Israeli citizens, including yours truly? Is it because Senator McCarthy's acolites at the "Israel Adademic Monitor" demand that Barghouti be expelled from the university, a demand that Freedland does not dare publicly endorse but would not mind surreptitiously supporting?

Does Freedland think that the fact that academic boycott supporter Kobi Snitz does not resign from his teaching job at the Technion is also "a blow to our credibility", like, supposedly, Barghouti's? Does Freedland also think workers must tender their resignation before they call for a boycott of their employer (as for example in this case, and in that case)? Or does he have one special standard for Jews and a different one for Palestinians? Which is it, Johnny--prejudice, dishonesty, or mere obtuseness?

In case Freedland is projecting his own prejudices on B.D.S. activists, perhaps it helps to clarify that Boycott is not an way of achieve personal purity by avoiding contact with "unclean" Israel; this is not cleaning the house of leavened bread before Passover. B.D.S. is a non-violent, effective, political strategy for putting pressure on Israeli and Israeli society, as was done to South Africa, in pursuit of concrete goals: Israel meeting its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination and fully complying with international law. It is a strategy, not a chastity vow. Barghouti was not "caught" circumventing the boycott because, as PACBI clarifies: The boycotters
never called upon Palestinian citizens of Israel and those who are compelled to carry Israeli identification documents, like Palestinian residents of occupied Jerusalem, to refrain from studying or teaching at those Israeli institutions. That would have been an absurd position, given the complete lack of alternatives available...Nelson Mandela studied law at the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, one of the most notorious apartheid institutes then. Similarly, leaders of the anti-colonial resistance movement in India and Egypt, among many other countries, received their education at British universities at the height of the colonial era.

PACBI has always made a distinction between the forms and range of academic boycott it urges the world to adopt and what Palestinians themselves can implement. The former have a moral choice to boycott Israeli universities in order to hold them accountable for their shameful, multifaceted complicity in perpetuating the occupation and racist policies of the state; the latter are often left with no choice but to use the services of the oppressive state, to which they pay taxes. (PACBI Statement on the McCarthyist Campaign against Omar Barghouti)
See? It isn't very complicated.

Oh, and then there's the other "mistake." It is supposedly in that other letter to Cohen, written by Haim Bresheeth, Hilary Rose and Jonathan Rosenhead, calling him to cancel his planned visit to Israel. Freedland writes:

And yet, in the very next paragraph of their letter, the boycotters make a fascinating mistake. They appeal to Cohen not as a Jew but as a disciple of Buddhism, “your practice of which is public knowledge.” But while Cohen did indeed retreat to a Buddhist monastery, he never disavowed the faith in which he had been raised. “I’m not looking for a new religion,” he said. “I’m quite happy with the old one, with Judaism.

If the learned professors didn’t know of that quotation, they could have simply listened to Cohen’s songs. For he is surely the most Jewish musical artist at work in the world today.” (Jewish Chronicle)

Let's clarify the nasty subtext of Freedland's article. He discovers the "fascinating mistake" of the "learned professors," (who never claimed in fact that Cohen was not Jewish) and this allows him to engage in some Jewish identity brinkmanship: three beefy paragraphs about Cohen's Jewishness as it reveals itself in his work. The subtext of course is that he, Freedland, is also deeply Jewish, because he understands and responds to Cohen's Jewish art. by implication, Professors Bresheeth, Rose and Rosenhead must not very Jewish because Jewish culture and sensitivity, exemplified by Cohen, is alien to them. This leads Freedland to his gloating finale: the boycott call will fail, because

it is surely futile to try to keep Cohen out of the Jewish homeland — if only because the people of Israel, perhaps more than anyone else, need to hear the cry of a Jewish soul like his.

What is implied and insinuated, but never stated, is this: real Jews are Zionists: they see Israel as their homeland, and they believe that they have an inherent right to be there and that Israel has the right to grant them that right through oppression of Palestinians even if they are Canadian (like Cohen) or British (like Freedland), whereas the kind of Jews who support boycott are Jews in name only, witness their inability to even notice Cohen's obvious Jewishness. (this is, I assume, what Freedland finds "fascinating" about the mistake he projected on them)

Now, I don't know whether Cohen accepts the call for boycott or not. However he decides, it will depend less on Cohen's Yidishkeit than on his Menschilchkeit. On the other hand, Freedland's underhanded insinuation that Jewishness and Zionism are one is quite smelly, especially coming from someone who was recently more disturbed by people equating Jews with Nazis (which is disturbing) than by what Israel did in Gaza. Freedland's (overblown) concerns about a spike in antisemitism might be more credible if he did not himself seek to imply that "real" Jews call Israel their homeland, which is a favorite theory of quite a few on and off-line bigots.

Besides, the Jewish Chronicle must pay really badly for articles. Because there is another letter to Cohen that Freedland could not afford to research for his hatchet Job. In it, the writers, some of whom are Jewish and some are not, refer to Cohen's Buddhist commitments but also to his Jewish art and indeed quote from a poem that directly talks about Israel (and which Freedland of course passes in silence).

Indeed, your people, Cohen,have built "a new Dachau, And call it love, Security, Jewish culture," as you have so perceptively put it yourself in "Questions for Shomrim," but only a few voices have been raised against these injustices. (EI)

Why mention just one letter? Is it because the second one isn't as useful for oneupmanship and border policing the Jewish identity?

But whether one notices Cohen's Jewish sensibility or not is not a litmus test for Jewishness. Non Jews can respond to Cohen's Jewish lyrics, just as the Jewish Cohen can respond to Buddhist thought. And some Jews can be too busy or uninterested to notice what Cohen is singing about; that is not a crime against the Jewish People.

So here it is, the boycott application corrected and resubmitted. Somehow I am confident His Border-Policeness will soon find other t's we didn't cross and other i's we didn't dot. It is, after all, his Jewish duty, or at least his warped view thereof.

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