Monday, May 26, 2008

Israel, Feminism, & Obama

I'm on the BoltBus headed back to NY from DC after a wonderful long weekend with my bestest friend :) Amazingly enough the bus offers Wifi - this gives me a chance to catch up on some blogging and give one subject the thought it deserves...

I've been putting off writing about Israel here, for several reasons. Firstly, i am positive there are lots of others out there that know much more about the subject than me. Secondly, based on media coverage, Israel was the one issue i couldn't get on board with Obama about.

Luckily, I caught Obama's Israel speech on Thursday. Below is the video.

I have a hard time navigating between my Jewish identity and the beliefs i am "supposed to have as a liberal" when it comes to America's involvement and commitment to Israel.Jill over at Feministe recently wrote a post entitled Israel at 60. She discussed that "the creation of that state [of Israel] came at great expense." Jill mostly focused on Palestine as a marginalized group and the lack of voice they receive in media coverage. The whole post sat wrong with me and left me incredibly unsettled. Still, i couldn't help but wonder how much my Jewish identity played a roll. Would i still be so pro-Israel if i was not Jewish? I always advocate for the marginalized groups, why is this situation any different? I thought about these things a lot over the last few weeks and came to a conclusion. I don't believe Palestine IS marginalized, at least not in the way Jill suggests.

A commenter, David Schraub, pointed Feministe readers to Phoebe Maltz's post where she takes precisely the opposite position. David did a great job dissecting some of Jill's post and other comments in response to the post. One of the things David wrote that really resonated with me was: "It’s not, after all, as if the Palestinians don’t have powerful allies. The Arab World (which possesses considerable economic/diplomatic leverage on the United States) would be the obvious one. One might argue that it’s a little bizarre to say that Israel is advantaged from a state of affairs where they are utterly dependent on the US for, well, everything, while the US is — at the very least — in a complicated relationship with many Arab states from whom we get all that oil. Who’s got the leverage advantage here? Tack on the entire UN, which is nearly universally aligned against Israel to the point where anti-Semitism does begin to come seriously into play (the Conference of the Islamic States is huge in the non-aligned bloc, the non-aligned bloc is huge in the general assembly, ergo….), and you’ve got a significant amount of countervailing pressure against what the United States throws up in Israel’s favor. And of course, Israel, though certainly possessing a very strong military, is still the size of Vancouver Island, which makes it inherently vulnerable even if every IDF soldier was a reconstituted clone of William Wallace."

David goes on to say, "the dynamics of power here are complicated and cross-cut. Simply labeling one group The Oppressor and the other The Victim, and writing policy accordingly, is going to lead you astray, and isn’t going to end up being consistent with a liberationist agenda for all persons. When the risks for Jews isn’t 'loss of privilege' but the sanctioning of organized anti-Jewish violence, justifying differential burdens based on 'asymmetrical positioning' isn’t going to cut it."

(emphasis mine)

Prior to the CT primary i struggled a lot with who would earn my vote. Overall, Obama seemed like the right choice for me but based on what i'd heard and read from media coverage, Obama seemed not to quite grasp Palestine's involvement and direct responsibility in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict or understand the complexity of it. Media focused on Obama's commitment to negotiations and peace talks. Trust me, i'm all for working things out with words and especially peace treaties but, IMHO, Israel's been there, done that so to speak. I was glad to catch Obama's speech in a Boca Raton, Fla. synagogue Thursday (video above) when he said, point blank:

We must not negotiate with a terrorist group that is intent on Israel's destruction. We should only sit down with Hamas if they renounce terror, recognize Israel's right to exist, and abide by past agreements. That is what I've said throughout this campaign.

I reject attempts by some of my opponents in this campaign to distort my position. They are counting on fear because they know they haven't told the truth.

The threat of Iran is real and grave, and my goal as president will be to eliminate it. Ending the war in Iraq will, I believe, be an important step towards achieving that goal because it will give us increased flexibility in our dealings with Iran and increased legitimacy in the region.

Obama insisted he would not negotiate with Hamas and respected and supported Israel's right to exist. He also made clear his views on Israel being able to protect itself: "I will make sure that Israel can defend itself from any attack, whether it comes from as close as Gaza or as far as Tehran."

I wasn't alone in my misconceptions regarding Obama's religion, alliances, and view points on Israel. Media coverage and Obama's opponents, as he explained yesterday, led people to believe many fallacies in regards to these issues. Here are several examples via NYT:

Mr. Obama is Arab, Jack Stern’s friends told him in Aventura. (He’s not.)

He is a part of Chicago’s large Palestinian community, suspects Mindy Chotiner of Delray. (Wrong again.)

Mr. Wright is the godfather of Mr. Obama’s children, asserted Violet Darling in Boca Raton. (No, he’s not.)

Al Qaeda is backing him, said Helena Lefkowicz of Fort Lauderdale (Incorrect.)

Michelle Obama has proven so hostile and argumentative that the campaign is keeping her silent, said Joyce Rozen of Pompano Beach. (Mrs. Obama campaigns frequently, drawing crowds in her own right.)

Mr. Obama might fill his administration with followers of Louis Farrakhan, worried Sherry Ziegler. (Extremely unlikely, given his denunciation of Mr. Farrakhan.)

Thinking and especially talking about Israel, the Middle East, and Jews' "right" to the land is at best, difficult. I've personally found it downright impossible given circumstances, extreme opinions, and people's tendentious thinking. With that said, Obama also acknowledged the special bond he himself feels with the Jewish community,
"And I know that I might not be standing here were it not for the historical bond between the Jewish community and the African- American community. I want to make sure that I am one of the vehicles by which we can rebuild those bonds."

I think Obama did a great job in this speech and look forward to more conversations about Israel. We need to keep talking about this and not allowing our fear to dictate our reactions, opinions, and support when it comes to the state of Israel.


Lynn Alexander said...

This is definitely a difficult topic, and many can in some ways see both sides on it. it is a complicated history full of invalidated experiences and challenges of making things right somehow. I am not sure how lasting peace will be brokered but I do know that we need to look at the whole picture beyond our loyalty and identity.

David Schraub said...

Thank you for the kind words, and you might like the post I wrote last week: Can Zionism be Defended By Proxies?