McDonald’s ‘boycott’ is 20 years old—so what’s the big deal?

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kikar_Masaryk_Haifa_6807.JPGIsraeli financial daily Calcalist reported on Wednesday that global behemoth McDonald’s won’t be opening a franchise in a shopping mall currently under construction in Ariel, Israel’s largest West Bank settlement—that, in fact, owner and general manager Omri Padan “refuses” to do so.

McDonald’s Israel has clarified, however, that it’s always been company policy not to operate beyond the Green Line, and as the Israeli franchise has been a growing concern for twenty years, it requires a special kind of effort to see the refusal as anything new, or as a response to any sort of pressure. Sure it’s a boycott, but it’s a boycott that’s already a generation old.

In 1998, Padan told Haaretz

McDonald’s-Israel has not nor will it open a branch in any Israeli settlement beyond the Green Line. Back when I was the general manager of Kitan Textiles, I told the board I would resign immediately if they moved to open a plant [in] the West Bank. I have the privilege of not needing to compromise on my principles.

Indeed, a source close to Padan told Haaretz the other day that

This is a media spin generated by [mall owner] Rami Levy and his associates. Padan hadn’t even heard of this mall until he was approached seven months ago. He rejected the idea outright. Levy is trying to push his mall forward with media spin, whereas our chain’s policies concerning the opening of branches across the Green Line have been well known for years.

So the story currently rocketing around the Israeli and broader Jewish media is, as they say, a nothing-burger.

But buried in the hype is an interesting reflection of Israeli social reality: Omri Padan spent his army years in the IDF’s elite commando unit known as the sayeret matkal, the same legendary unit in which Benjamin Netanyahu also served, just a few years earlier.

Unlike Netanyahu, however, in 1978 Padan was among the founding members of Peace Now, the movement that launched the Israeli peace movement as it’s known today, in all its complexity. On the other hand, the mall in which McDonald’s will notbe opening is being built by Rami Levy, a Likudnik “considered close to the Prime Minister.”

All of which is to say: These men more than likely know each other. Israel is a small place, and the military/political/business elite (which is, bottom line, one and the same) is even smaller. If Padan, Netanyahu, and Levy aren’t buddies or didn’t actually serve shoulder to shoulder, they’ve almost certainly attended the same weddings, share friends, might even feature in the background of each other’s family photo albums.

But even if not—even in the event that Omri Padan has never so much as crossed paths with either Levy or Netanyahu—there is simply no way that Rami Levy actually believed the owner of McDonald’s Israel would agree to open a branch in Ariel, and to the extent that his friend the Prime Minister knows anything about his business affairs, Netanyahu, too, knew there was no way.

Why spin the story, then? Why create something where there was nothing, why imply that Padan has taken a new stance, why hint that he has been influenced by the international BDS movement?

I don’t know, and I rather suspect that Levy and his associates would be unlikely to tell me.

But at a time of unprecedented animosity toward the Israeli left and its supporters abroad, a time when the government sees fit to keep its people ignorant of Arab peace moves and conduct a misinformation campaign against Israeli Bedouin citizens, it seems entirely of a piece that a right-wing businessman with connections in the Prime Minister’s office might want to try to embarrass and discredit a man like Padan—and possibly to provoke the following: The director of the Yesha Council (the settlement movement’s political arm) told the Jerusalem Post that

McDonald’s has turned from a business into an organization with an anti-Israeli political agenda. We expect that Israeli citizens, especially those living in [the settlements], will take this into account before entering the company’s franchises.

As McDonald’s controls a whopping 70 percent share of the Israeli fast food market, it’s not clear how much damage such a boycott would do.

But don’t worry about the settlers—Ariel will be getting Israel’s McDonald’s knock-off, Burger Ranch. “For the glory of the state of Israel,” the company announced.

At last, Herzl can rest in peace. Nothing-burgers for everyone!

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Advertisements

Coercive Shabbat enforcement in Tel Aviv?

I love Tel Aviv

It’s true.

Shabbat approaches and I make my plans. I’m more observant than the average American or Israeli Jew (more than my own husband, come to that, who is also both Israeli and American), but less observant than many. We’ll make Kiddush in a kitchen that’s strictly kosher, and I won’t do anything of a professional nature from 20 minutes before sunset until the third star can be seen in the sky; Havdalah, on the other hand, almost always gets forgotten in our house and, in the course of Shabbat, I’ll turn on lights and heat food as the need arises.

This is what religious observance looks like in a free society: Some do more, some do less (and inevitably, some judge more, some judge less). But ultimately it’s up to the individual to determine what his or her faith and level of observance must reflect.

And yet it was with real ambivalence that I greeted the news this week that Israel’s Supreme Court has instructed the Tel Aviv Municipality to either enforce its own by-laws forbidding certain businesses from functioning on Shabbat, or write new by-laws.

When I lived in Tel Aviv, Friday afternoon was by far the best part of the week. One by one the stores and cafes would close, there was always a street party or beach event somewhere, filled with lazy, end-of-week revelers, and as you walked home with a Shabbat’s worth of fresh fruit and roasted sunflower seeds, rest would descend on a city best known for its frenetic pace.  It was lovely. Except, of course, if you’d run out of eggs, or you needed aspirin and the only emergency pharmacy open was half-way across town.

Not to mention the coercion piece of it.

The stores in which I could not shop, the errands I could not run, these were all a result of laws, by-laws, rules, and regulations that exist all across Israel that serve to limit commerce and enforce religious compliance on customers, clients, and owners who simply have no say in the matter. Should business owners choose to flout those laws and the municipalities in which they function choose to enforce them, heavy fines are usually levied and owners have to consider what’s more costly: Paying the city every now and then, or closing down?

The real cost is higher than either of those, however. As much as I loved my quiet, lazy Friday afternoons, as much as I love Shabbat and believe that its observance is an act of worship, enforced religion has no place in a democratic society.

The Jewish national movement succeeded where many national movements have failed, and its proponents now have an actual state. The fuzzy lines that have always existed between what is Jewish “nationality” and what is Jewish “religion” are not made any less fuzzy by the fact of a state, but they are made more urgent.

Jews are both a people in the modern sense and a faith community in the ancient one, but it was for purely modern, political reasons that Israel’s early political leaders granted (some of) its early faith leaders wildly disproportionate power. Rabbis became kingmakers and acted to establish laws and policy regarding religious observance, and as a result, huge swathes of Israeli national life are run as if the country were not so much a nation-state as an Orthodox shul.

Which is a big enough problem for all Israeli Jews who happen to not be Orthodox, but there’s another side to the coin as well: Are there laws in place—or not? Are Israeli laws meant to be kept—or not?

Tel Aviv and much of Israel has managed to wedge itself into the worst of all possible worlds on the issue: Laws have been passed which are patently bad, because they’re not in keeping with a democratic ethos, and those laws are routinely broken, because too many people find them onerous and easy to break. Which is to say: The entire system manages to disrespect and damage Israel’s democracy and legal system about six ways to Sunday (or, you know: Shabbat).

I love Shabbat, but the way I observe it is my choice. If I choose to be an apikoros, that’s between me and my Maker, and no one sitting in a dusty office at any end of the earth should be able to tell me otherwise. Self-selecting Orthodox communities are free to self-select and keep the commerce at bay within those communities’ boundaries, but as tax-paying citizens, any Israeli who wants to pick up a liter of milk on Saturday morning should be able to do so.

The Supreme Court is right: Either Tel Aviv should enforce its own by-laws, or change them. As it stands, everyone—the state, its citizens, democracy, and (I would argue) Judaism itself—loses.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Half of Israeli Jews oppose Bedouin bill once they know the facts.

On Monday, Israel’s Knesset approved the highly controversial Prawer-Begin Plan for the Arrangement of Bedouin-Palestinian Settlement in the Negev, a plan which is likely to displace tens of thousands of Bedouin, “the largest attempted eviction of a native Palestinian population by Israel in decades,” according to Haaretz.

The Israeli NGO Rabbis for Human Rights has been among the lead organizations opposing the Prawer-Begin plan (also known as “Praver”), as has T’ruah, RHR’s North American counterpart. Among the criticisms leveled against Prawer-Begin by the latter are the following:

  • No Bedouin citizens were consulted in the process;
  • The plan disregards Bedouin property rights and fails to recognize Bedouin land ownership;
  • Implementing the plan would violate residents’ rights to due process;
  • The plan’s proposal for compensation in alterative land or money at a maximum rate of 50 percent of the actual value is arbitrary and unreasonable;
  • The plan refers to Bedouin citizens in degrading terms;
  • The plan uses vague and deceptive language, failing to include any maps, names of affected villages, or precise information on the amounts or locations of the affected lands.

The sad (and sadly largely unknown) truth of the matter is that Prawer-Begin represents nothing so much as a natural extension of the treatment afforded Israel’s Bedouin population since the founding of the state. Israel has always tried to dictate to the Bedouin how they may live, with little or no input from members of the actual community. As Noam Sheizaf writes in +972:

In the early 1950s, Israel refused to recognize the native Bedouin population’s claim to the land due to a lack of registration of the land by the British Mandate authorities (there are, however, records of permanent, non-nomadic Bedouin settlements going back to the 19th century). Other unrecognized villages are “temporary” settlements of Bedouins who were displaced in the 1948 War and were never allowed to return to their lands…

Over the years, Israel has built seven towns for the Bedouin and demanded that the population living in unrecognized villages relocate to them. Many preferred to stay in their villages, claiming that the townships are not suitable for their way of life, which is centered on agriculture and the use of farm animals.

Moreover, as badly as the infrastructure, education and housing rights of Israel’s other non-Jewish populations lag behind those of the Jewish majority, those of the Bedouin are always worse: Close to 50 percent live below the poverty line, and only 28 percent complete high school. In spite of the fact that the vast majority of the community lives in the Negev, “only three percent of students at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Be’er Sheva are Bedouin,” Haaretz reported late last year, and two thirds of those students are only able to attend classes “because of scholarships provided by a Jewish philanthropist who supports Bedouin education.”

So the fact that the current government has decided to extend the discriminatory arm of the state even further (aside from those coalition members who oppose Prawer-Begin for recognizing any Bedouin land rights at all) comes as no surprise.

But a poll unveiled this week finds Israel’s Jews providing a surprise of their own: A survey conducted by Rabbis for Human Rights found that nearly half of Israel’s Jewsthink that the Bedouin are right—but just as with the Arab Peace Initiative, they didn’t know the facts before being questioned, and their opinions changed as soon as they were informed. Rabbis for Human Rights reports:

A majority within Jewish Israelis opposes the Praver/Begin Plan (42.8% opposed vs. 32.4% in favor). Most in the community think the Bedouin’s land claims are fair (47% vs. 34.6%), but before those claims were presented to them, most of the respondents thought the Bedouin were taking over the Negev (88%)…. at least 93.8% of the Jews thought the Bedouin wanted a larger section of the Negev (more than 7%) than what they have actually demanded (5.4%).

… The findings indicate the effects of a severe campaign of incitement and misinformation against the Bedouin population, creating the impression that the Bedouin are plotting to take over the Negev, while in fact their modest demands—considered fair by most of the Jewish population—are proportionate to less than a sixth of their share of the population. Certain elements of the government and media must conduct an internal reckoning of their behavior, how they incited the Jewish public against the Bedouin and created a false, distorted portrayal.

It’s one thing (and it’s a pretty bad thing) to willfully mislead your public about their enemies’ willingness to make peace; it’s another to willfully mislead them about the lived reality of their fellow citizens (many of whom, it should be noted, actually serve in Israel’s armed forces).

Some Israeli Bedouin are promising resistance—not least, Bedouin Members of Knesset—but given the community’s difficulty organizing, it remains to be seen how far they’ll be able to get with their efforts.

They could use the help of the world’s Jews, and those in Israel in particular.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Because I’m pretty sure that in its heart, that coat is brown.

wendy davis big damn hero

*

Obligatory link for those who don’t get the reference: Firefly, “Big damn heroes, sir.”

Photo source: Patrick Michels /TexasObserver.org 

UPDATE: Please note this comment by Neocortex just made in the previous thread – all those folks in the gallery last night who yelled and stomped and cheered and brought it home in the last 10-15 minutes are giant Big Damn Heroes, too. Can’t stop the signal!

Texas Senator Wendy Davis literally standing up for reproductive choice.

wendy davisI heard over the Twitter that Texas Senator Wendy Davis needs more material for the heroic filibuster she’s undertaken today in an effort to kill a really, really bad anti-choice bill that otherwise stands to be passed by the Texas state legislature, so I edited my now-thrice posted story of my own abortion. Following you can read what I sent – I hope it helps, but I really wish I could just go and stand in her place for a few minutes. I’m so grateful for what she’s doing – she’s absolutely an American hero.

She has to make it until midnight tonight, a little less than three hours from now – if you have a story you’d like to send, you can send it to Jessica Luther who is in Austin and will pass it on: luther [dot] jessica [at] gmail. (If you don’t live in Texas, just don’t mention your locale).

I’ve had an abortion. Have you?

The current legislative effort to essentially eliminate abortion in the state of Texas has generated a great deal of raucous argument; as usual, the argument suggests the existence of clear-cut opinion, the “supporting” or “opposing” of the act itself.

What is never discussed are the gray areas.

Of course, women within the reach of this story know their own answer to my question; what many of the men in their lives don’t realize is that they would be surprised by the truth.

Many men don’t know that their wives, sisters or mothers have, in fact, terminated a pregnancy. They don’t know because the women they love fear their response. Will he see me differently? Will he — figuratively or literally — kill me? Witness how shocking it was when Wyoming State Representative Sue Wallis, a Republican, disclosed her own abortion in 2011.

As a result of these fears we – as a nation and as individuals – largely don’t talk about abortion. And when we do, we’re often not honest. The shadow of perceived opinion is very long. Publicly we speak as if there were two clear positions — but in private, most of us know this isn’t the truth.

My abortion is a thing of which I’m neither ashamed nor proud. I wish that I hadn’t had to do it, but I did.

The average person might want to know why — because most of us have a sliding scale of morality. Even some staunch opponents will agree in cases of rape; others where there is genetic defect; a larger number, if the abortion takes place early in the first trimester; many, of course, think it’s always a woman’s choice.

I believe there is a vast middle ground made up of most Americans, those who feel abortion is neither irredeemably evil, nor free of moral implication. Witness polls conducted recently by the Pew Research Center: just over half of Americans think that abortions should be legal in all or most cases; 25% are willing to countenance the idea in very specific instances. Only 16% want to ban abortion outright.

At least some of our national ambivalence reflects more about our culture than anything endemically human: Japanese society, for instance, maintains a standard ritual, mizuko kuyo, to memorialize aborted or miscarried fetuses and stillborn babies. In a paper discussing the rite, Dr. Dennis Klass, a Webster University psychology of religion professor and a grief expert, writes: “The abortion experience is seen as a necessary sorrow tinged with grief, regret and fear which forces parents to apologize to the fetus and, thus, connect the fetus to the family.”

This describes my own experience well — but I’m an American. I carry a different culture, and I fear that in apologizing, I accept some notion of personhood that somehow “makes” the entire thing — murder. So, I hesitate.

I ask myself: When I aborted my first pregnancy, did I kill a baby? No. But did I stop the potential for life? Absolutely. Insofar as life itself is simultaneously the most mundane and most divine fact on our planet, this means something.

But I’m willing to say that I don’t know what that something is. I can only function in the cold reality of my own world — and as such, I alone can judge whether my abortion was a moral choice. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t happy, but it was the least-bad of two bad choices. It was moral.

I don’t know anyone for whom abortion is easy; I don’t know anyone (any woman, at least) who sees abortion as birth control. These choices are stunningly complex. When we deny that, when we talk as if we are all 100 percent clear on this issue, we deny our humanity. And we deny our grief.

And why, in the end, did I have my abortion? I’m not going to tell you that—as Rep. Wallis said in 2011, it’s “none of your damned business.” You and I don’t know each other, and my reasons are personal. I don’t need to defend them.

And neither does your neighbor, the stranger at work — nor, perhaps, your wife.

 

Call Jewish “Price Tag” attacks what they are.

Graffiti reads "Price Tag," a reference to the fact that these attacks are meant to show Israel's government that any concessions to the Palestinians will be costly on the domestic front.

Graffiti reads “Price Tag,” a reference to the fact that these attacks are meant to show Israel’s government that any concessions to the Palestinians will be costly on the domestic front.

The other day a representative of the Israeli police shared some deeply troubling news:

“It doesn’t seem there will be significant improvement in the war on ‘price-tag’ attacks over the next few months,” a senior police official told Haaretz on Tuesday, a day after 29 cars in the Israeli Arab city of Abu Ghosh had their tires slashed [by Jewish attackers], and racist slogans were spray-painted on nearby walls [including the phrase “Arabs out”]. 

Police officials believe that the main problem is the complete lack of deterrence among young right-wing activists. The officer added that a series of solved crimes would restore the feeling that the rule of law prevailed. He said that in addition to the radical settler youth that grew up in the West Bank, there is also a generation of copycats, mainly teenage dropouts that engage in less sophisticated activity but who draw encouragement and a feeling of immunity because police have failed to track them down.

Given that nearly all cases brought by West Bank Palestinians against Israeli Jews are dismissed (whereas nearly 100 percent of cases against Palestinians end in conviction), it’s fairly easy to understand why there would be “a complete lack of deterrence” for Jewish “price tag” attacks against Palestinians. Reactions in theJewish community and political class to the attack in Abu Ghosh suggest that such acts are taken more seriously when the Palestinians in question are Israeli citizens, but it remains to be seen what this will mean in terms of prosecutions, indictments, or convictions.

What makes the police statement and Abu Ghosh attack even more disturbing, however, is the fact that the government happened to weigh the question of how to categorize price tag attacks just one day before the most recent one occurred. Are price tag attacks terrorism, or aren’t they?

Netanyahu and his cabinet decided that they’re not, though they’re willing to deem the perpetrators members of an ”illegal association,” a legal term which will expand the capacity of law enforcement and security apparatus to respond to perpetrators.

The Prime Minister’s Office released a statement that this decision “will significantly strengthen the ability to fight ‘price-tag’ phenomena,” but, theJerusalem Post reports,

According to an Israeli official, the cabinet feared that classifying price-tag attacks as acts of terror would blur the lines between these extremists, on the one hand, and serious organized terror groups, such as Hamas or Hezbollah, on the other.

It goes without saying that when an individual Palestinian acts on his or her own to damage Israeli property or to injure or kill a Jewish citizen, no one bothers to ask if he or she is part of a “serious organized terror group.” No one has any problem using the ‘T” word in those circumstances.

But it’s also worth noting that when Jews are attacked by Arabs, calling it terrorism (or, in legal terminology, “a hostile act”) allows the victims to claim government compensation, compensation not offered to the victims of other criminal acts. To date, if an Arab happens to fall victim to a Jew, he or she has no such right.

I tend to be a purist when it comes to the word “terror.” Not every terrible act of violence, no matter how bloody or frightening, is an act of terrorism. Mirriam-Webster offers an extended definition of term which fits neatly into my academic training as a political scientist: Terrorism is “[the] systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective.” Terrorism isn’t a hate crime, and it isn’t going postal. First and foremost, terrorism is an effort to effect political change.

Which is precisely why the recent rash of price tag attacks on both sides of the Green Line is, in fact, terrorism. If you set fire to mosques in a bid to convince your government that making any concessions to Palestinians will be too costly on the domestic front, or if you slash tires and scrawl “Arabs out” on the walls—you’re a terrorist. You’re employing systematic violence to create an atmosphere of fear in order to bring about a particular political objective—and no matter what kind of linguistic somersaults the Israeli government undertakes to convince itself and its citizens otherwise, that’s terrorism. 

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Opening up about sexual assault in Israel.

The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel

The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel

assault is not a single-county, single-culture, single-anything issue, and just as the U.S. is struggling with revelations like that out of Steubenville and the number of sexual assaults in the military, so is Israel.

In Israel’s case, many revelations revolve around the famous and powerful: Former President Moshe Katsav is currently serving a seven-year prison term for raping, sexually abusing and harassing three women; ex-Justice Minister Haim Ramon was convicted of sexual harassment; influential media figure Emmanuel Rosen was recently accused by 10 female colleagues of obsessive harassment and date rape; Tel Aviv District Court Judge Nissim Yeshaya said in court two weeks ago—while discussing the case of a young woman who was gang-raped at 13—that “some girls enjoy being raped.” Meanwhile, indictments for sex crimes in Israel’s military doubled in 2012. Haaretz reports:

In recent months, indictments on charges of sexual abuse have been filed against soldiers, officers and civilians employed on IDF bases. A civilian physician working for the IDF was indicted on charges of rape and sexual assault, an airman in the IAF was convicted of rape and sodomy, and a company sergeant first class in the 931st Battalion of the IDF’s Nahal Brigade was convicted of the sexual assault of female soldiers who served under his command.

Much like in the U.S., one result of the headline-grabbing news has been a sudden outpouring of personal stories. Early last month +972’s Dahlia Scheindlin, better known for her public opinion analysis, wrote a deeply angry and ultimately deeply personal column about the utterly mundane and often paralyzing reality of sexual harassment in women’s lives. After discussing just how well-known Rosen is for his skirt-chasing ways, she wrote:

In fact, I don’t know where to start writing at all. Should I begin by giving a pithy description of the fascinating social media dynamics, the frenzied debates between the genders running on Facebook forums? Should I describe the defensiveness and anger of many men?

…Should it be the tales of trauma now being shared by an appalling number and range of women, an ever-spreading stain whose blackness and girth are still deepening and spreading?

…Or should I tell my own story?… No, I never complained to the workplace and I am ashamed I wasn’t able to prevent or redress those situations, instead of what I did: stew in my humiliation and the wreckage of my self-worth, built from the ground with my own sweat and blood. Confuse my rage at him with rage at myself, for not telling him to f*ck off, or even before that: for not projecting a personality so unfathomably wonderful that he could never countenance such disrespect in the first place.

Early this month, well-known literary critic and social commentator Ariana Melamed responded to Yeshaya’s comments in a column about her own rape at the hands of a family member at age 14. In searing detail, she told of being hugged, then forced to the muddy ground, then raped, then hearing the sound of her rapist’s satisfaction. “Slowly, slowly—God alone knows how—you gather your strength and go home, bleeding, on failing legs.”

Then this past Friday, journalist Sharon Shpurer (who has been among those covering the Rosen case) wrote in Haaretz:

It was when I was 11 and a half…. One of the teachers thrust his hands under my school shirt. He touched, he fondled, he stuck his tongue in and he kissed. A few minutes of resistance and it was over. Then it happened several more times. How many exactly? I don’t remember. The 24 years that have elapsed have already blurred the small details, the memories and the feelings.

…I didn’t do anything with this. I didn’t complain to the police and I didn’t tell anyone. Life went on and I kept it inside me. I was ashamed. Why was I ashamed? I don’t know. Maybe precisely because I didn’t complain and I didn’t talk. Maybe.

Shpurer writes about how hearing the stories from Rosen’s accusers, then other stories, and finally reading Melamed’s column, “gave me strength.”

Daylight is the best disinfectant and its role is not only to disinfect the soul but also to ensure that the topic does not fall off the agenda, and that young girls and boys will know they must not be ashamed and they must not keep silent.

…We need not necessarily involve the police or the courts, which will rummage in our psyches, our sexual habits and our degree of permissiveness…. What we do need now is just to spit it out, each of us her own story. To show, quite simply, that this is a nationwide plague.

During the time that I lived in Israel I spent several years as a counselor with theTel Aviv Rape Crisis Center, and so have found myself sadly unsurprised by all of this news. Israel is a country like any country, and as in any country, 50 percent of Israelis live with the knowledge that their bodily autonomy may be violated at any given moment. One in every three Israeli women is a survivor of sexual assault.

What is surprising to me, and heartening, is that so many Israelis are talking about it. Daylight is the best disinfectant, and the sooner that Israelis and all people come to understand that sexual assault is a human rights issue of monumental proportions, the sooner all of our societies can heal from the pain we have long expected all women to simply shoulder.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Discriminating against Arabs costs Israel billions.

The Palestinian-Israeli town of Umm a-Fahm, the largest in the country.

The Palestinian-Israeli town of Umm a-Fahm, the largest in the country.

There are all kinds of reasons for Israel to rectify the discriminatory treatment it affords its Palestinian citizens (a community generally referred to in Hebrew as “Arab Israelis”). The most basic requirements of democracy, for instance, or the demands of basic justice. On Friday, however, the editorial board ofHaaretz admonished the state for fostering the existence of what it called “two separate states, one Arab and one Jewish,” and pointed out a somewhat less obvious fact: Discriminatory practices don’t do your economy any favors, either:

One out of every five citizens in the State of Israel today is an Arab. Nonetheless, for most of the Jews living in Israel, the Arabs are transparent. They do not meet them in the street since most Arabs live in separate towns… They also don’t meet them at work since Arabs have a hard time making their way in the Israeli labor market, and certainly have a very hard time filling desirable jobs. They also don’t meet them in government offices since the government itself does not meet the goals it set for itself for employing Arabs: only 7.8 percent of government workers are Arabs…

The gap between the two countries in terms of standard of living, income level, quality of education and employment rate is enormous. This is the gap between the Jewish state of Israel, which is a developed Western nation, and the Arab state of Israel, which is no more than a Third World country.

Two researchers have determined that Israel is losing billions of dollars as a result of its institutionalized discrimination, which starts as early as preschool and moves with the children as they age and advance into and through a sub-standard school system and on to blatant inequity in the professional world. Just this week the Israeli Knesset is considering a new law to punish citizens who don’t serve in the IDF (read: Palestinian-Israelis and the ultra-Orthodox) by withholding services and de facto preventing non-veterans from being hired for positions in the civil service.

Tel Aviv University’s Eran Yashiv and the Bank of Israel’s Nitza Kasir estimate that an investment of about $2.2 billion in the Palestinian-Israeli sector over the next five years would net the state $11.1 billion by 2030, and $33.3 billion by 2050. “The return on investment will be unrivaled,” Haaretz reports, “and reach an annual return of 7.3 percent.”

It’s really pretty simple: If you fail to allow certain classes of people to develop fully (women across the world, for instance, or the Palestinian citizens of Israel), they will ultimately be a drag on everyone else. I may only be a social scientist, but even I know that much.

And as a social scientist, I can tell you that it’s not great for your democracy, either.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Book review: ‘My Isl@m: How Fundamentalism Stole My Mind — and Doubt Freed My Soul,’ by Amir Ahmad Nasr

my isl@mAmericans have a complicated relationship with Islam. Most of us aren’t Muslim, and even the best-intentioned people often remain ill-informed, the gaps in our knowledge base filled almost exclusively in the wake of violent events.

Amir Ahmad Nasr’s My Isl@m comes as an important corrective, a welcome and important primary document that follows Nasr’s search for meaning and belonging within his own faith even as he uses new tools and technologies to reach out to the world beyond it.

Barely in his late 20s, Nasr has already traveled a remarkable path: Born in Sudan, he was raised in Qatar and later Malaysia, never fully at home in any of the countries to which his family took him — a Third Culture Kid, “a youngster struggling to assimilate elements of my parents’ culture and other cultures in which I was immersed into a third colorful culture of my own.”

The Islam practiced by his family was relaxed and inclusive by Qatari standards but traditionalist and strict compared to what Nasr found in Malaysia. Encouraged by his parents to build friendships across religious boundaries, but taught in school that infidels would suffer excruciating torture in the afterlife (alongside lax Muslims), his personal faith has moved from a violence-tinged fundamentalism to tortured agnosticism, to where he stands today: A Sufi as dedicated to mystic involvement with the divine as he is to reason and cold, hard facts.

The journey might not have been possible, however, were it not for Nasr’s access to and involvement with the Arab and Muslim blogospheres. It’s a world in which he came to play an increasingly visible role in the course of and aftermath to the revolutions of the Arab Spring, writing about and advocating for such subversive ideas as freedom of speech and interfaith dialogue. My Isl@m is, then, as much a testament to the crucial role that the global sharing of information plays in allowing cultural change as it is a tale of one young man’s evolution of thought.

It is not a perfect book. My Isl@m relies heavily on the reproduction of conversations as if verbatim, but these often read as stilted and expository rather than genuine, and later chapters in particular occasionally come across as a live blog of a graduate-school syllabus — interesting in parts, but not as interesting as watching Nasr live his life and synthesize new ideas into something entirely his own.

But there is also much to praise here: a powerful love of the many cultures to which the author belongs, an ability to praise and criticize at the same time, and perhaps most importantly, a strong and engaging voice that welcomes readers into Nasr’s ongoing search, even as he successfully sketches a telling picture of the range and diversity within the Arab and Muslim worlds (worlds which are not, by any stretch, one and the same).

“The sincere pursuit of Truth requires you to entertain the possibility that everything you believe to be ‘true’ or ‘valid’ may in fact be wrong,” he writes. “Everything. Your nationalism. Your religious beliefs. Your upbringing. Your unexamined convictions. Your story.”

Nasr’s ability to provide a clear, nuanced view of a rich and complex world, coupled with his willingness to unflinchingly expose his own halting path, make My Isl@m an absorbing read, one that should appeal not only to readers seeking to better understand Islam’s depths, but also anyone who’s struggled with the titanic clash of cultures that living in a hyperconnected world can bring — which is to say, a great many people, indeed.

Crossposted from The Dallas Morning News.

Where Israeli attack dogs lie in wait.

attack dog Mohammad Amla back

Mohammad Amla’s back after he was attacked by IDF dogs.

When you learn a second language—even if you live in that language for a decade and a half, work, pray, fall in love, go to parties in that language—even then, there are always new words to discover. Surprises when you open the newspaper.

The other day, on a beautiful, lazy Friday afternoon in the holy city of Jerusalem, I learned a new Hebrew phrase: leshasot klavim— “to set dogs [on a person].”

In this past weekend’s Haaretzwriter Gideon Levy interviewed Mohammad Amla, a Palestinian day-laborer who for the past twelve years has supported his family (including the health care expenses of his deaf daughter) with the money he makes as a handyman in central Israel. He lives outside of Hebron but there’s always a way to get through Israel’s Security Barrier; once on the other side, Amla more often than not has obtained a legal work permit through the ungentle and wildly expensive services of an Israeli contractor. Between travel to and from Tel Aviv, rent on the dilapidated apartment he shares with six other men, and bribing his handlers, Amla doesn’t have much left at the end of the month, but even so, he told Levy, the money has been just enough to make it worth the effort.

Except that a few weeks ago, soldiers waited in ambush at one of the holes in the barrier. They waited with dogs.

The soldiers started firing rubber bullets at [Amla and two friends], and then another group of seven soldiers emerged from the Palestinian side of the fence. They were masked and accompanied by dogs. The frightened young men tried to continue in their flight back to their village, and then the soldiers unleashed the dogs [shasu klavim] on them.

“The dog jumped on me,” says Amla, “grabbed me forcefully, put his claws on my back and then also grabbed me by the neck with his teeth…. I fell facedown. I was suffocating. I felt that I was dead, dead. Unbelievable pain. And I was shouting to the soldiers: ‘Take it [the dog], release me,’ and they didn’t do anything.”

This is far from the first time that Israel has been caught setting dogs on unarmed Palestinians. The military maintains it suspended the practice in 2011, but multiple eyewitnesses and/or victims have come forward and provided testimony that attack dogs are still in use. One case involves an innocent bystanderanother, nonviolent protestors(click the second link for video of the latter event). Moreover, in each of these cases, including Amla’s, dogs were only one source of violence deployed by the soldiers in question: Palestinians typically also find themselves kicked, beaten, or shot at with rubber bullets, and in one case, a soldier dropped a rock directly on a man’s head as he lay—bitten, beaten, and bloodied—on the ground.

Each of these stories is horrible. Each is horrifying. But Amla’s contains two further truths that official Israel has long refused to admit.

The first: Palestinians get around the Security Barrier every day. They supply Israel with cheap, easily exploited labor, and are only stopped when the authorities want to make an example of someone—in which case permits are of no use because (as Amla’s story demonstrates) dogs, fists, and rubber bullets are unleashed before any questions are asked.

The second truth is buried so deep in the well-worn story of the decades-long occupation that it’s almost invisible: The dogs, and the soldiers who handled them, were on the Palestinian side of the fence. Israel is at complete liberty to do what it wants, where it wants, on the West Bank, and the point of its behavior is not merely to keep the respective peoples on their respective sides of a fence constructed ostensibly for that purpose. The point is to demonstrate Israel’s freedom to disrupt and control Palestinian lives at will, and to punish those who question that freedom.

It’s odd that after all these years and all this writing about the occupation and its inhumanities, I managed to miss “leshasot klavim,” but these things happen.

The real problem is that official Israel is banking on the fact that a lot of us will miss the phrase, and that even more of us won’t notice the activity. That we’ll sit under the bright Jerusalem sky or in our favorite coffee shops in Manhattan, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and Mohammad Amla will mean as little to us as he means to them. That we won’t give a moment’s thought to Jewish soldiers setting attack dogs on a refugee people.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Photo source Alex Levac for HaAretz