Sunday, October 25, 2009

Watch This

OK. If you have been too lazy or too daunted to read the full Goldstone report, then just watch this interview of Judge Goldstone by Bill Moyers. (Even if you have read the report, you should watch it.) You get the gist of the report, and you get to see for yourself if you think Goldstone is an antisemite or a dupe, as has been charged. Goldstone shines, in my opinion: clear thinking, courageous and honourable.

And by the way, Moyers asks some tough questions.

In one exchange, after Goldstone says that bombing the Palestinian legislative offices is a prima facea war crime, because civilian targets are not legitimate targets in war time, Moyers retorts that "we bombed the Bundestag in WWII - not to mention Hiroshima and Nagasaki ..." Goldstone calmly replies that international law of war has evolved since WWII. That the Geneva Conventions of 1949 where put in place - and signed by every member state of the UN - precisely to prevent the horrors and immorality of WWII from occurring again.

For me that was an important insight. Something that had not been written in the report.

The interview ends with the following exchange.

BILL MOYERS: So you have Israel saying that your report is an impediment to peace, and you say that it is essential to peace. Why do you think a report like this is essential to the peace process?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, because certainly, it's been my experience in the countries in which I've been involved and many in which I haven't been involved, that in the aftermath of serious human rights violations, you cannot get enduring peace if you leave rancor and calls for revenge in the victim population. What victims need is acknowledgement. They need official acknowledgement of their victimization. And whether that's done by Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, as we did in South Africa, or through domestic prosecutions or international prosecutions, that official truth-telling is an essential building brick to lasting peace.

My esteem for Goldstone only increases: perhaps one of this generations lamed-valniks.

This is a fascinating interview. You can see the first half of the interview here, and the second half here.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

"The Right to Know Does Not Equal the Duty to Know": Part 2

Ki brov khochmah rav kaas, v'yoseef daat yoseef machov - "For in much wisdom is much grief, and increase of knowledge is increase of sorrow," says Ecclesiastes. Apparently most Israelis are familiar with this verse, and they therefore choose just not to know.
That's what I wrote in my previous blog entry in regard to Israelis not wanting to know about the occupation. But the sad truth is that this "not wanting to know" is not just an Israeli problem. Canada, and much of the world, is infected too, especially when it comes to climate change.

Climate change is pretty much inevitable at this point. If the world acts now, and in concert, we can limit its damage. If not, a very bleak future awaits my grandchildren's generation.

If we act now, starting at the upcoming Copenhagen conference, we can limit global warming to approximately 2 degrees centigrade. At that level there is still damage aplenty (e.g. 56 cm rise in ocean levels by 2100, increased droughts, more violent and unpredictable weather) but it is short of catastrophic.

If we don't act, it is virtually certain we will hit 4 degrees of average global warming by 2100. At that level we can be assured of major disruption to civilization world wide. At that level we get major crop failures of corn and soy in the world's major agricultural centres - Canada and the U.S. in particular. (And given that world population is expected to increase 50% by 2100, we can assume famines on a scale we have not seen in centuries.) Europe, Southern Africa, and South East Asia will see significant and persistent drops in precipitation. Ocean acidification will see a major die off of fish and crustaceans. There will massive coastal flooding in Bangladesh, India, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Holland, Belgium as well as islands too numerous to mention. Summertime temperatures in Toronto, where I live, and in other eastern North American cities, will hit the mid to high 40's. (See this Globe and Mail story for a good overview of all this.)

All this is known. Yet many people do not want to know.

And the leaders of Canada are the first among the head in the sand crowd, trying to minimize carbon reduction targets so the Alberta economy (aka the Oil Sands) can continue to grow "at a healthy pace." Canada proposes that it reduce emissions 3% below the benchmark 1990 level by 2020. It also proposes that those targets be "intensity targets" - that they are relative to total economic activity (which means they could actually rise in absolute terms.) For comparison the EU proposes 30 percent absolute reductions, and 25 percent reductions are what was called for in the Kyoto accords and at this point are the minimum required to keep average global warming under 2 degrees.

Meanwhile the U.S. is also dithering, threatening not to sign any deal unless cuts apply equally to China and the U.S.

China, for its part, has said it will only sign an agreement that sees global per capita emissions equalized over time.

And as our leaders argue, the clock is ticking.

* * *

At synagogue earlier today we read the following prayer - in honour of parshat Noah, and World Climate Change Day.

Elohei Haruchot, God of all spirit, all directions, all winds
You have placed in our hands power
unlike any since the world began
to overturn the orders of creation.

Please God, give us wisdom and skillful hands to heal
the Skies and the Earth from our sins;
Y'kum purkan lish'maya 'May salvation arise for the heavens'.
that the blessings of the sun flow over us
for life and not for death, for blessing and not for curse,
as it says, 'I will open for you the expanses of the Heavens
and will empty out for you a blessing beyond what is enough
and Earth's fruit will not be destroyed because of you.'

God full of compassion, remember Your covenant with all life,
the covenant of the waters of Noah.
Spread a Sukkah of compassion and peace
over us, over all Life's species;
Surround all our relations, with Shekhinah's radiance;
Water them with Your river of delights in all of their habitats.
Then 'the bow will appear in the cloud',
joyful and beautified with its colors,
and the Tree of Life will return to its original strength,
so that we and our descendants may merit to live
many days on Earth, like days of the Skies over the Land.
Blessed be the Life of the worlds!

- Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg

"The Right to Know Does Not Equal the Duty to Know"

The quote in the headline above is from the acceptance speech given by Israeli journalist Amira Haas, at the ceremony giving her the International Women’s Media Foundation's 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Haas, along with Gideon Levy has been one of the fearless voices telling Israeli's - day in and day out - about the cruelty and immorality of the Occupation.

At this point, one has to believe, that she does it for reasons of personal integrity, as she seems to have despaired of changing the minds, or even really getting the attention, of most of her fellow citizens.

Ki brov khochmah rav kaas, v'yoseef daat yoseef machov - "For in much wisdom is much grief, and increase of knowledge is increase of sorrow," says Ecclesiastes. Apparently most Israelis are familiar with this verse, and they therefore just choose not to know.

See her entire acceptance speech here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

President Nasheed Desrves the Nobel Prize More than President Obama

The government of the Maldives has held a cabinet meeting underwater to highlight the threat of global warming to the low-lying Indian Ocean nation.

President Mohamed Nasheed and his cabinet signed a document calling for global cuts in carbon emissions.

Ministers spent half an hour on the sea bed, communicating with white boards and hand signals.

The president said the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen this December cannot be allowed to fail.

At a later press conference while still in the water, President Nasheed was asked what would happen if the summit fails. "We are going to die," he replied.

The Maldives stand an average of 2.1 metres (7ft) above sea level. The U.N. predicts that seas will rise 56 cm by the end of the century, if we meet the suggested Copenhagen targets, and more if we fail to.

"If the Maldives cannot be saved today we do not feel that there is much of a chance for the rest of the world," he added.

Good News, Bad News

The good news is that the UNHRC voted to accept the Goldstone Report and forward it to the Security Council. This report, which attempts to bring international law and norms of justice and non-brutality to an increasingly brutal Middle East conflict deserves to get the airing and respect that it is due. Its recommendations for further investigations, either by the parties or by the International Criminal Court, should be followed.

The bad news is the the Palestinian Authorities motion, which the UNHRC voted positively on, buries its acceptance of the report in a series of unrelated condemnations of Israel: "... actions undermining the sanctity and inviolability of religious sites in ... East Jerusalem." But worse than that, the resolution makes absolutely no mention of Hamas' probable crimes: something which the Goldstone Report itself emphasized equally with Israel's misdeeds.

Indeed, what made the Goldtone Report so valuable, so noble, was that it (mostly)ignored the rightness or wrongness of the cause of each sides participation on the war and it antecedents, and concentrated on how each side pursued its goals by military force. It found Israel's bombing of civilians targets in Gaza probable crimes, but also Hamas' rocketing of civilian targets in Israel. The fact that each side has its reasons - both claim it is "self defense" - is dismissed by Goldstone. There are some things that are simply not allowed - even in war. (You would think that Israel gladly would accept this logic, even for pragmatic reasons. By this standard Israel's tactics are only sometimes illegal, while Hamas' tactics are almost always illegal.)

Thus both the PA and the UNHRC have missed the point of Goldstone's Report, and lost the "moral high-ground."

Goldstone, himself, was criticized the way on which the UNHRC had taken up his report:

"This draft resolution saddens me as it includes only allegations against Israel. There is not a single phrase condemning Hamas as we have done in the report. I hope that the council can modify the text."
You can read the full text of the UNHRC resolution here. If you have not yet read the Goldstone Report itself, you should cut through all the hysteria about it and read it (or at least skim it) yourself. It is a remarkably fair document. You can download the text of the report here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Open For Us the Gates of Justice

Yesterday, during Hallel prayer of the Shmini Atzeret festival, we sang Pitchu Li Sha'arai Tzedek - open for me the gates of justice. We sang it with load and fervent gusto. This got me thinking ...

Pitchu Li is both a prayer to God to bring justice in the future, and a praise of God for having done so in the past. As a Reconstructionist Jew I believe that God does nothing supernatural; but rather, it is we - who, created in God's image - are obliged to act in a Godly manner and to implement his will, however imperfectly, on earth. In that spirit, I draw your attention to this online petition: Jews demanding that the world take up the Goldstone Report.

To: The Jewish Community

Jewish Appeal to Support the Goldstone Report

The primary author of the recently released UN Report on Gaza, the internationally respected jurist Richard Goldstone, has been attacked by establishment voices within the Jewish community. When those within a community try to “excommunicate” and dishonor a truth-teller, it is our obligation and responsibility to speak out vehemently on their behalf and on behalf of the truth they bring.

By all accounts, Judge Goldstone, who has a deep connection to Israel, approached his task with no pre-conceptions about what he and his team would find as they investigated the circumstances and aftermath of the Israeli attack on Gaza. Goldstone is a former South African constitutional law court judge who also served as a prosecutor of the Yugoslav and Rwandan war crimes tribunals. His credentials for this task are impeccable.

For following where the truth led him and releasing a report detailing human rights abuses and violations of international law by Israel, as well as Hamas, Judge Goldstone should be applauded for his honesty and integrity. Instead, he and the report have been viciously and relentlessly attacked by many within the Jewish community.

... We call upon each and every one of us to speak out at every opportunity--at our community centers and synagogues, in our homes, in the street, wherever we go.

We must demand that the truth be heard and that those claiming to speak in our name stop manipulating truths that have been well-documented for years, long before the Goldstone report. We are also appalled by the Obama Administration’s reaction to the report. We call for a fair and impartial investigation of the report’s allegations by non-military institutions. Failing that, we call for an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Let us begin the New Year in the pursuit of justice.

To add your name to the online petition, click here.

The picture at the top of this blog entry is of the gates of the International Court of Justice in the Hague. The one just above this paragraph is of the Israel Supreme Court (circa 1953 when it still had some guts vis a vis the security forces.)

I would prefer if Israel could handle its end of the Goldman Report internally, as Judge Goldman has recommended. But if not, then someone needs to call it as it is, and say no to excessive violence and cruelty - even if that means publicly embarrassing Israel. Serbia survived the Milosovich trials (sans Kosovo and Bosnia mind you) and Israel will survive this - and be better for it too.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Last Bundist

Marek Edelman dies last week. He was 90. He was buried on Friday.

Marek Edeleman was the last surviving member of the Warsaw Ghetto. He was one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and its last commander - after Mordechai Anelewicz was killed.

The President of Poland spoke at his funeral, held in the old Jewish cemetery of Warsaw. Two thousand people attended the grave-side ceremony. But no one from the Israeli government attended - though Israel's former ambassador to Poland, Shevach Weiss, attended in a personal capacity. No official representative of any international Jewish organization attended either: not even from the Holocaust memorialization organizations. As far as I can tell, neither the Jerusalem Post nor Ha'aretz ran a story when Edelman died, nor any sort of eulogy. (Haaretz did run a short AP wire story about his funeral.)

Why is Edeleman mostly ignored while Anelewicz is lionized? (I lived for a year on Mordechai Anelewicz St. in Jerusalem, there is a kibbutz Kfar Mordechai named after him, his name and story is taught in every Israeli school, and in most Hebrew Schools around the world.)

Perhaps because he remained a firm anti-Zionist all his life. In pre-war Poland he was a leader of the "Bund" - the Jewish Socialist Party, that advocated for a "multi-cultural" solution for Jews within a socialist Poland. It dreamed of a thriving Yiddish based Jewish culture within a secular, multi-ethnic Poland - where significant minorities - like Jews and Ukrainians - would have cultural autonomy. The Bund was a significant party within the Polish Parliament of those years, and there where as many supporters of the Bund as there where Zionists among polish Jews of the 1930s. After the war Edelman remained in Poland, became a noted doctor, and later was active in the Solidarity movement that brought down Communism in Poland. In the 1990s, he served in the Polish Parliament.

In 2002, in the middle of the second intifada, Edelman wrote a letter to Palestinian resistance leaders. Though the letter criticized the suicide bombers, its tone infuriated the Israeli government and press. According to The Guardian, "He wrote in a spirit of solidarity from a fellow resistance fighter, as a former leader of a Jewish uprising not dissimilar in desperation to the Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories." He addressed his letter to "To all the leaders of Palestinian military, paramilitary and guerrilla organizations - To all the soldiers of Palestinian militant groups". This set up a howl of rage in the Israeli press, especially that Edelman had consciously used the terms that described the structures of the resistance movement in Warsaw.

I am struck by Edelman's consistency throughout his life. He believed that Jewish liberation could only come through the liberation of the people among whom they lived, and he opposed Zionism as an escape from the Jewish responsibility to help liberate all people. He was too much of an anti-Zionist to move to Israel, and too much of a socialist to move to America. He also felt a responsibility to the few Jews remaining in Poland, and to the memory of all those who perished there. He saw no reason for a Jews to move in order to solve "the Jewish problem". He believed that Jews should fight for their rights (and those of others) wherever they lived. He believed that a Jewish life could be lived anywhere. He remained a Bundist to the end.

The picture at the top of this posting is of Edelman's funeral on Friday. The picture below is an enhanced close up of the banner that is draped over his coffin. It reads in Yiddish: Yiddisher Sotzailisicher Farbund - "The Jewish Socialist Bund."

Friday, October 09, 2009

Obama: Make It Real.

The war in Afghanistan is unwinnable. At least it is unwinnable with anything less than 200,000 U.S. troops and another 5-10 years of death and destruction. And even then - no guarantees.

The goals of the war are unclear.

To stop Al-Qaeda? But their leadeship are hanging out mostly in Pakistan, and in any case, it is such an amorphous organization that cutting off the head will do no good. Instead you must starve the body - by denying it a cadre of motivated recruits. That involves a slow - very slow - raproachmant with the Muslim world. It requires intense world wide intelligence work and police like actions - not a localized anti-insurgency war.

To bring democracy to Afghansitan? But the horse that the West is backing - Karzai - just stole the elections with massive fraud. By all accounts he is corrupt and sectarian. He only looks good in comparrison with the fundamentalist Taliban.

To help Afghan women? That can't be imposed from the outside. They, and their local male allies, need to do it for themselves. The West can only encourage them and help out indirectly.

So yes, there are some noble goals invoked to justify the war in Afghansitan. But goals are not enough. You need the means. And the West does not have the means to impose its vision from the outside. To continue the war will likely not acheive any of its goals, and will result in years of death and destruction for Afghanis and for the Western soldiers unlucky enough to be assigned there.

Obama could do something to earn the Nobel Peace Prize he just won, by flip-flopping on Afghanistan and figuring out how to get out as soon as reasonably possible. Does he have the courage to publicly change his mind? I doubt it. But lets hope so.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, of the Shalom Centre, has made roughly the same point in his latest e-letter. Here are some insightful - and some wacky - ideas and issues he raised.

... Yes, the Taliban are disgusting. Oppressive. But there are a myriad ways of encouraging reform ... The one that does NOT work is trying to install democracy at the point of a bayonet. Or, even worse, Predator Drones which
massacre wedding parties from the sky and turn the survivors into furious

... We can already see that we have walked into another quagmire -- an endless war in a country that for centuries has hated all occupations with a burning fury. -- And that war would undermine all plans for social reform at home --- exactly what happened to Lyndon Johnson whren Vietnam swept away the Great Society.

... 500,000 US troops for five years many dead, maimed of body, mind, and soul. Forget about health care. Forget education. Forget healing our wounded, choking planet.

... But the mindless pressures of military habit are still pressing. The American people --- surveys show a majority oppose this war --- must act to end it.

The other path --- friendship with Islam; economic aid at the grass-roots, micro-loan level; empowering women; ... Afghan women want to be empowered --- but they do not believe American bombs will do it.

... Call a conference of the independent women's organizations in Afghanistan. Offer micro-loans for grass-roots economic development to any group of ten women who apply as a group (loans ranging from $1,000 to $5,000), plus offer ten revolvers and 100 bullets to each group of women: one gun and 50 bullets for each woman for target practice, 50 for defense against anyone who comes to assail them for being
uppity. ...

If you are American, Arthur encourages you to write your Senator, using the following link and urge them to end the war in Afghanistan as soon as possible.

Diplomatic Bullshit !

Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize! What bull!!

Here is a guy who has expanded the war in Afghanistan, and is likely to expand it more; who has achieved zero, - nada, zip, efes, klum - on the Israel/Palestine file - and may have even set back peace and justice by showing how much of a paper tiger he is; who has worked actively to suppress the Goldstone Report - an attempt to bring international law and human rights to bear on an intractable and viscous conflict; who has not yet solved the Iran-nukes problem ...

What exactly has he done for peace? Begun to wind down U.S. involvement in Iraq? That would have happened any way. The Nobel committee claims its because of "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation." I guess thats code for not being George Bush: for not kicking sand in the face of other countries, for making Europe feel wanted again. Thin soup, in my opinion.

My wife says that its because he is the first black President, and that alone will lead to better race relations around the world. But that is not Obama's doing. That prize should have gone to the American voters.

In any case, I predict that this will devalue the Nobel Peace Prize, and it will not buy Obama any points with middle or conservative America, who, in any case, have no respect for, and in fact suspicion of, lilly livered Norwegians.

Maybe, just maybe, it will make Obama want to live up to the Nobel's expectations and put some spine in those noble words of his. But don't hold your breath.