Tuesday, April 9, 2013

See No Evil; Hear No Evil: It's All Israel's Fault

Book Review

In Anti-Semite and Jew (1946), Jean-Paul Sartre says: “If the Jew did not exist, the anti-Semite would invent him.” This thought carries forward to the nation of Israel, which serves such an ignoble purpose, as the world's chief repository of hate, a hatred so strong and resistant to reason that even doing good is considered bad. In a book review of Sarah Schulman's Israel/Palestine and the Queer International, George Jochnowitz shows that hatred of Israel does not require facts or a coherent argument; it just is. Prof. Jochnowitz writes: “Opposition to Israel takes precedence over every other issue for leftists. Schulman has jumped on the bandwagon. Never once in her book does she mention Golda Meir. She doesn’t seem to know that homosexuality is a capital offense in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, North Sudan, and Mauritania. In general, she doesn’t seem to be well informed.”

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by George Jochnowitz

Israel/Palestine and the Queer International
By Sarah Schulman
Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2012. 194 pp.


On November 23, 2011, an almost unbelievable op-ed by Sarah Schulman entitled “Israel and ‘Pinkwashing’” appeared in the New York Times. Schulman, who is pro-gay, condemned Israel for a marketing campaign that “sought to depict Israel as ‘relevant and modern.’” Why on earth shouldn’t Israel be proud of its open society? Wouldn’t it make more sense for a gay-rights activist to speak against the executions and honor murders of homosexuals that take place in the Arab world? Schulman also pointed out that there are conservative and religious politicians in Israel who are anti-gay. That is true everywhere. Would Schulman prefer a country that represses free expression and isn’t open to a variety of opinions?

I wondered. Was this op-ed a joke? Was Schulman trying to point out how ridiculous it was for feminists and gay-rights activists to be anti-Israel? Then a year later, Schulman’s book came out. It was almost 200 pages and seemed utterly serious. It was trying to be persuasive. I came to the conclusion that Schulman was indeed not making a joke.

Andrew Sullivan, in 2003 referred to the organization Queers for Palestine as “Turkeys for Thanksgiving.” Since then, he has changed his position and has become rigidly anti-Israel. He and Sarah Schulman are now both turkeys for Thanksgiving.

Similarly, women’s rights groups don’t know that Golda Meir was the first woman head of government in history who was neither the daughter (like Indira Gandhi, daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru) nor the wife (like Sirimavo Bandaranaike) of a previous head of government. Feminists have been much more silent than one would expect about honor murders in the Arab world. They also are silent about female genital mutilation (FGM). Nobody seems to know that Hosni Mubarak had outlawed FGM in 2007.

Opposition to Israel takes precedence over every other issue for leftists. Schulman has jumped on the bandwagon. Never once in her book does she mention Golda Meir. She doesn’t seem to know that homosexuality is a capital offense in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, North Sudan, and Mauritania. In general, she doesn’t seem to be well informed. She makes lots of mistakes with Jewish words and places, for example “yamacha” for “yarmulke” (165), “matzoh brie” for “matzo brei” (77), “Theodor Herzel” for “Theodor Herzl (3), “kopf” (head) rather than “kop” (2), which she pluralizes as “kopfs” instead of “kep.” In German, to be sure, the singular word for “head” is “Kopf,” but the plural is “Köpfe.”

These minor errors have nothing to do with Schulman’s arguments. However, whenever she makes an unlikely and unsupported statement, it is natural to doubt her accuracy. For example, she says that Jacobo Timerman had said on 60 Minutes, “When I came to Israel, I heard that some Israeli soldiers had made some Palestinian youth get down on their knees and bark like dogs, because they were Arab dogs” (8). This is possible, of course. It sounds implausible. Life for the Palestinians is hard. But Israeli soldiers don’t do nasty things simply to be cruel. In any event, the story is third hand. Timerman said he heard somebody say that. Schulman says she heard Timerman repeat it on television. Schulman is sloppy about facts. The statement doesn’t belong in her book.

Schulman really believes that the Israelis act against the Arabs in order to humiliate them. After taking a bus from Ramallah to Jerusalem and going through a long wait during the security procedure at a checkpoint, she concluded that “the checkpoint is not about security. It is only about humiliation” (95). It is impossible to understand what led her to this statement, which she does not explain. Israel’s checkpoints, as well as the fence it has built around parts of the West Bank, were a response to a series of terrorist bombs, in particular, a bomb at a seder being celebrated at a hotel in Netanya in March 2002 that killed 30 Israelis and wounded 140 others. The fence and the checkpoints worked; the number of terrorist acts within Israel dropped abruptly.

Schulman’s humiliation theory violates the main theme of her book: pinkwashing. She approvingly cites a pro-gay professor, Heike Schotten, as saying Israel had used the tactic of including gay people in the army “to somehow nullify the violation of Palestinian human rights and its own rampant homophobia. The United States does this all the time, as if having a black president means we are not racist and not committing war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq” (39). Is that why a majority of Americans elected Obama? Did millions of voters say that their votes would help America to hide its crimes? Schulman echoes this idea when she says about Israel that “the maneuvering of gay rights to support racist agendas evolved strategically from marketing impulses” (135). Would a country that uses marketing impulses as a strategy to improve its image stop people at checkpoints—universally condemned checkpoints—to humiliate them and increase the world’s hatred?

Schulman talks about Aswat, an organization of Palestinian queer women. She tells us, “Palestinian queers exist and are organizing” (65). She doesn’t seem to understand that Palestinian lesbians are unique in their ability to organize. In Israel, of course, there is no problem. She mentions a meeting at which she spoke “at the Rogatka Veggie Bar, an entirely under the radar queer anarchist vegan café” and tells us “there were about 60 people in the room, ranging in age from twenty to seventy, lesbian, gay, bi, trans, perhaps straight, anarchist, feminist, militantly anti-occupation, as well as lesbians who just came to hear me speak” (73).

What an extraordinarily free country Israel is—not merely for lesbians but for those who openly oppose government policies! Does Schulman consider this pinkwashing? Did the people gather at the Rogatka Bar for the sake of making Israel look good? It is only because of Israel’s existence that Palestinian queer women can organize. What would happen if the West Back were entirely independent, instead of merely autonomous? Think of what just happened in Gaza. A law was passed ordering that middle and high schools must be segregated by sex.

In most of the Arab world, such laws needn’t be passed, because the segregation already exists. It would have existed in Gaza too if Israel had not once controlled the area. If there were no Israel, there could never have been an organization of queer women like Aswat. That does not make Palestinian lesbians pro-Israel, of course. Schulman talks of a meeting at the City University of New York at which a lesbian Palestinian, Haneen, who was an Israeli citizen, answers the question “How will we have peace?” by saying “We don’t want peace” (148). Schulman explains that Haneen wanted freedom and justice, but of course, Haneen was unwilling to accept the freedom and justice she already had and wanted instead to sacrifice it all in order to destroy Israel. She reminds us of Mariam Farhat, mother of martyrs, three of whose sons died in attacks against Israel. Farhat said she wished she had 100 sons to sacrifice.

Schulman writes that “nobody can get through the Egyptian checkpoint no matter how much he or she needs a hospital” (43). The opposite is true. Palestinians cross the various borders and are treated in Israel—successfully. Recently, Israel established a field hospital at the Syrian border to help victims of the revolution taking place against Assad. 

Israel is the most hated country on earth—not North Korea, not Iran, not even the United States. Schulman, like leftists everywhere, is blinded by her faith in anti-Zionism. By fighting against Israel, she is fighting against the rights of Palestinian women and of all women in the world of Islam.

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George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937.  He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY.  His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects.  As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at george@jochnowitz.net.

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Copyright ©2013. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This article was originally published in Arutz Sheva (April 5, 2013). It is republished here with the permission of the author. 

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