Wednesday, September 23, 2009

We're EVERYWHERE...seriously

There are certain recurring themes in conversations I've had with American Jews here in Israel; Israeli falafel is outstanding, "Don't Mess with the Zohan" is right about the ubiquity of hummus, peace with the Palestinians would be really nice, and, most importantly, it's weird being around Jews all the time.

38% of all Jews worldwide live in the United States yet we only comprise 2.2% of the total US population.  There are possibly more Jews living in America than in Israel yet we're a minority there and the majority here in Israel.  American Jewish communities tend to be clustered in specific areas such as the New York metro area and Hollywood; entire swaths of the US are essentially Jew-free zones.  So there is a certain connection among American Jews, especially when traversing the gentile regions of the States.

My friend Anna mentioned the other night that she still looks around and thinks "Wow, there are a lot of Jewish looking guys here" before catching herself.  The minority outlook is deeply ingrained and does not vanish quickly.  Some find a level of comfort in being different and discover that being the majority, and thus no longer "special," is strange.  Others revel in finally being part of the majority, which is why many say they make aliyah.

I've had a different reaction, partly from my childhood in a very Jewish area of New York and partly from being Korean.  Hanging out with Jews all the time is nothing new and is actually quite normal and comfortable.  However, I can't vanish into the crowd here any more than I can in the US.

For example, Shira and I went to the shuk before Rosh Hashanah for groceries.  We split up for a bit and went wandering off for sundry foodstuffs.  As I went to buy some vegetables, I passed a couple Israeli teenage boys who yelled "China!" at me as I walked past.  There was no malice or threat involved; I actually can't figure out why they said it, to be honest.  It was just a bit jarring.

So even if I am here surrounded by Jews, I'll still be different.  I'll still be a minority.  I'm sure it would be the same in Korea, since I am American and Jewish.  But this is ok because, in my expert opinion, weird is the new normal.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Or more precisely, shana tova!  This weekend, Jews around the world are celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  Between the Korean New Year, American New Year, and Jewish New Year, I'm swimming in temporal ambiguity.  Which year to choose?

While I'm struggling to find my place in the vasty deep of time, here are a few links worth reading:

- The UN released the report from its fact finding mission into Operation Cast Lead a few days ago and, needless to say, Israel was not happy with the results.  Richard Goldstone, former judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former
Yugoslavia and Rwanda, headed the mission.  Mr. Goldstone published an op-ed in the New York Times explaining the mission's results.

There is a lot to parse here but there is one quote that strikes me as an odd moral equivalence:

"Unfortunately, both Israel and Hamas have dismal records of investigating their own forces. I am unaware of any case where a Hamas fighter was punished for deliberately shooting a rocket into a civilian area in Israel — on the contrary, Hamas leaders repeatedly praise such acts. While Israel has begun investigations into alleged violations by its forces in the Gaza conflict, they are unlikely to be serious and objective."

There is a significant difference between actively praising someone for killing civilians and failing to investigate violations thoroughly.  While Israel at least acknowledges civilian deaths as regrettable and takes steps to prevent them, Hamas desires civilian deaths including those of Palestinians.  Hamas deliberately places its fighters in civilian structures and uses human shields while firing rockets at Israeli civilian targets.  Israel dropped leaflets and placed phone calls to areas about to be attacked and also diverted or aborted attacks when the risk of civilian casualties was deemed too great.  There are legitimate complaints to be made about the effectiveness and thoroughness of these efforts.  But the Israeli military's failings are not, morally or legally, the same as Hamas' desire to kill civilians.

Unfortunately, when the question of culpability emerges, Mr.Goldstone only addresses one party:

"Pursuing justice in this case is essential because no state or armed group should be above the law. Western governments in particular face a challenge because they have pushed for accountability in places like Darfur, but now must do the same with Israel, an ally and a democratic state."

And nowhere does he push for accountability for Hamas and the states that support it.

- David Landau, the former editor in chief of the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, criticizes the UN report in another op-ed in the New York Times.  He criticizes the mission for asserting that "Israel intentionally went after civilians in Gaza — and wrapped its intention in lies."  In doing so, the mission failed to address the true issue, one that deserves open and fair-minded debate:

"Israelis believe that their army did not deliberately kill the hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including children, who died during “Operation Cast Lead.” They believe, therefore, that Israel is not culpable, morally or criminally, for these civilian deaths, which were collateral to the true aim of the operation — killing Hamas gunmen.

It is, some would argue, a form of self-deception.

When does negligence become recklessness, and when does recklessness slip into wanton callousness, and then into deliberate disregard for innocent human life?"

I agree with Mr. Landau.  The fact finding mission wasted its mandate on what essentially became Israel bashing, further solidifying the Israeli mindset that the world will never give them a fair hearing and that the sins of Hamas and others will always be forgiven because, in the end, no one really cares if Jews die.

- On a potentially happier note, President Obama will host meetings between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.   I'm not expecting too much right away but we have to start somewhere.

- Lastly, on a completely different note, Britan's Telegraph published a noteworthy piece on Dan Brown's 20 worst sentences.  Having worked at a bookstore during the heyday of The Da Vinci Code, I took this article to heart.  Mr. Brown is one of the most spectacularly untalented authors I have ever read.  However, he recently lost his position as the official butcher of the English language to Stephenie Meyer, the stupendously ungifted author of the Twilight series.  My favorite Twilight line?

"What if I’m not the superhero? What if I’m the bad guy?”

Holy let's-hit-people-over-the-head-with-the-emo-hammer Batman!