Saturday, August 13, 2011

Comment Trail:

Still in a lazy mood, I'm just dropping comments here and there to dispel some of the boredom and doldrums of the late summer holiday (stores are already displaying winter clothes, for heaven's sake, don't they have some pity?):

@ Engage: a response to Jonathan Freedman's sadness over Israel's boycott law

Noga Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

“A grotesque violation of the basic right of free speech, it makes it illegal not just for an Israeli living in Tel Aviv to boycott, say, goods produced in the West Bank but even to advocate such an idea. At a stroke, it undermines Israel’s repeated claim to be “the only democracy in the Middle East”.

This is what I mean about standing on a very narrow bridge. ”

With all due respect, I don’t think Jonathan understands Reb Nachman of Breslov’s brilliant metaphor.

The song Freedland refers to is a nigun by Reb Nachman, the founder of the Breslov Hasidic dynasty.

“Kol ha’olam kulo gesher tzar me’od,Link
v’ha’ikar lo lefahed klal.”

And translates as follows:

The entire world is but a very narrow bridge,
and the main thing is to not be afraid, at all

In the song, and unlike Freedland’s expansion of the metaphor, there are no “sides” to this very narrow bridge. This bridge is all there is. A bridge over a very deep chasm. It’s a song about fear and life. Fear that impedes life, that gets us closer to the chasm and darkness. Letting go of fear means having a chance at life, but life that no matter what will still be lived on a very narrow bridge.

I don’t understand the relevance of this great poetic thought to Freedland’s problem with Israel’s boycott law.

I find Israeli journalist Ben Dror Yemini’s thoughts about it much more pertinent:

“… there are clauses in the law that are justified. Those are the clauses that disallow benefits for organizations that support the boycott. Whoever maintains the position that Israel deserves to be boycotted does not deserve any benefits from the state. Just as in the case of the first, and discarded, version of the “Nakba Law”, which suggested that those who commemorate the Nakba be censured, the final bill which passed, and rightly so, denied any funding for such commemorations by the state.

Israeli ethos has fostered a very special type of entitlement. As in the case of the painter who joined a Canadian campaign of boycott against the city of Tel Aviv; he returned home to receive an award from the city of Tel Aviv for his artistic achievements. And like hundreds of artists from the same political persuasion who demand money from the state to explain to the world that Israel is a pariah state. They are free to speak and preach as much as they like, but not at our expense.”

Perhaps, instead of speaking of “grotesque violation of the basic right of free speech” (the kind of language he shares with the boycotters’ he ostensibly opposes), Freedland should really exert himself to imagine what kind of existence Israelis have, on that “very narrow bridge” stretching over a chasm, and what they need to do in order to remain suspended over that chasm and continue to be. Freedland, it seems to me, thinks like a typical Englishman in Orwell’s times: from within the glorious safety of an island protected by a very powerful navy.

@ Norway and Jews: A response to "The leader of Oslo Jewish community on Erna Solberg’s ‘Muslims are treated like 1930′s Jews’: "

The British journalist and historian,Oliver Kamm, has a rule: “Historical analogies are never exact but sometimes useful. If they are to be useful, then the precedent needs at a minimum to be stated accurately.”

This is a useful marker by which to gauge the intellectual and common honesty of an analogy, then, to try and at least pay some attention to the signifier (precedent).

Erna Solberg’s analogy ‘Muslims are treated like 1930′s Jews’ is offensive not because it is antisemitic but because it is a lie, a distortion of the historical record and a de-facto attempt to minimize the suffering of Jews under the Third Reich. For an analogy can work retroactively, as well: if ‘Muslims are treated like 1930′s Jews’ then the Jews in 1930 cannot have been treated as badly as they claim.

Why is Edna’s disingenuous analogy tolerated, then?

Oliver Kamm also has an answer to this enigma:

“If your heart is in the right place, so the assumption seems to be, then it doesn’t matter if your scholarship is sloppy or risible. Well, it does matter, because historical truth matters for its own sake.”

Let’s repeat:

Scholarship and accurate, verifiable, easily-accessible historical records do matter “because historical truth matters for its own sake.”

And Edna’s feet should be held to the proverbial fire for indulging herself in lazy and sloppy historical analogies which she is ill-qualified to make.


At 2:31 AM EDT, Blogger SnoopyTheGoon said...

A short and sufficient response by Norm to JF:

At 11:13 AM EDT, Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

I read it and was not impressed. I prefer Yemini's position. Freedland should have expressed some understanding to the legitimate fears invoked by these boycotts, to the fact that Israelis are keenly aware that the boycotters do not differentiate between "territories" and Israel proper, that the crucial majority of Israelis do not consider large blocks of settlements as illegitimate or deserving a special treatment. By calling the law "grotesque" or "madness" he is, maybe unwittingly but still, trying to ingratiate himself with the boycotters, telling them that de-facto he agrees with their aims but not with the means they go about it. I do not perceive any moral courage in his article, particularly because he has not made any effort to avoid this kind of demonizing language.


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