The wilderness of life.

Anna Clark tweet 29 Oct 13

I’ve often said that there’s nothing more punk than love, but I think Columbia Journalism Review’s Anna Clark has me beat in the punk department.

Why are Israelis tone deaf to incitement against Palestinians?

kahane posterThe Prime Minister of Israel has been known to angrily decry anti-Israel incitement among Palestinians, and he is right to do so. If there’s ever to be peace between the two nations, it will have to consist of more than negotiating terms and signing papers—the people involved will have to learn to see and treat each other as human beings, or the paperwork won’t last.

What, then, are we to make of two stories of incitement that came out of Israel just this week?

The first, reported by +972, reveals that posters lauding Meir Kahane have been appearing on the walls of Israeli military outposts. Meir Kahane was not only a racist ideologue of the worst stripe, he actively encouraged anti-Palestinian violence. Baruch Goldstein, the settler who massacred 29 praying Palestinians, was a member of Kahane’s Kach Movement; both the Israeli and American governments have designated Kach and its successor movements as terrorist organizations. The posters in question read “Kahane was right”; in one photo, a uniformed soldier can be seen casually leaning back against Kahane’s headshot, rifle in hand.

The second story emerged from an interview that Yediot Aharonot conducted with Israeli celebrity/fashionista Nicole Raidman.

Raidman told Yediot that she’s planning a new home in a small community on the Israeli border with Gaza, a house that will feature green construction and solar energy. Asked by the reporter what she plans to do there, Raidman responded:

I’ll sit on the roof with my daughter and an AK-47 and play Angry Birds: There’s an Arab! Shoot! More than that: I’ll buy a pink tank with Swarovski crystals. I’m a right-wing extremist because a friend of mine was killed in an attack when I was a girl, okay?

Fantasizing about randomly killing Palestinians with one’s daughter, a tricked-out tank at your side, is bad enough, as far as these things go. As to Raidman’s justification for her attitude, I’m sure that the Israelis involved with the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum might have a different idea as to what she might do with her grief, but heaven knows Nicole Raidman isn’t the first person to respond to violence with revenge fantasies.

But then Raidman goes on to reveal just how blind she is to the implications of what she’s saying, shedding light not just on her own inner workings, but also on the enormous cognitive dissonance that exists for so many in Israeli Jewish society.

When the reporter asks her to clarify, Raidman helpfully adds: “I just mean terrorists”—and then, when told “but not all Arabs are terrorists,” replies:

I agree. I have Arab customers. One customer from Ramallah spends millions. What do I care. But their way of thinking, the way they raise their children with hate towards us, I can’t stand it. But if I see a 10 year old with a huge gun [totach —literally: cannon], I’ll shoot him!

Note that Raidman’s daughter—the child she is raising, educating, and wants to take up to the roof with an AK-47—was born in 2010. I can only imagine what Israeli officials would say if a Palestinian celebrity said anything similar.

This inability to see that something’s broken when a government can complain about incitement but isn’t much bothered by Kahane, or that cultivating murderous loathing among children is indefensible on either side of the border, is a kind of blindness that plagues Israeli Jewish society and shapes its relationship with all the Arab peoples among which it lives. And lest you be tempted to bring up textbooks: Sure, Palestinian textbooks have issues with hate-and-fear-mongering—and Israeli textbooks do, too.

Like any people, we Israelis tend to see our side’s flaws as unremarkable, and the other’s as unforgivable. We tell ourselves that a few posters don’t mean anything; that neither Raidman nor her toddler will be hauling a Kalashnikov up to the roof anytime soon. That our textbooks tell the truth.

When people kill each other for decades, though, the hate and the fear tend to flow both ways. Whether or not we want to talk about it, there exists mounds and mounds of evidence that Israelis are just as capable of hate and fear as anybody else.

Consider this: After hearing his interviewee fantasize about killing 10 year olds,Yediot’s reporter blithely changed the subject back to fashion. Violent xenophobia and bigotry are just part of the conversation.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Rick Perry announces Texas A&M campus in Nazareth.

TexasAMLogo1Former-and-current U.S. Presidential hopeful Rick Perry went to Israel this week to burnish his pro-Israel bona fides in advance of the 2016 campaign, and also to announce plans for Israel’s first non-Israeli institution of higher education. As The Texas Tribune reported ahead of the announcement:

On Wednesday in Jerusalem, Israeli President Shimon Peres, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp are expected to announce plans to establish a Texas A&M campus in Nazareth. It will be called Texas A&M Peace University.

… “Our side of the equation is to locate and make available land, which is a scarce resource in Israel,” said [Manuel Trajtenberg, chair of Israel’s Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education].

Trajtenberg said he anticipates significant student interest. “Of course, we would appeal to potential students in the area, but also Jewish Israelis of all sorts…” he said. “I suspect there will be a strong demand for this institution from students who would prefer to study in English and are comfortable in a multicultural environment.”

Though a first for Israel, Texas A&M has maintained a presence beyond American borders since 2003, with a branch campus in Qatar. The primary difference between the Qatar and Israel campuses is funding: The Qatar institution is supported entirely by the Qatar Foundation; the Israeli branch will depend on international donors. Fundraising help will come from (among others) Chancellor John Sharp, who is Catholic and told The New York Times that he’s wanted to take this step since taking his position in 2011: “I wanted a presence in Israel… I have felt a kinship with Israel.”

Also instrumental to the plan is the Texas-based evangelical power-pastor John Hagee:

When Mr. Sharp began exploring the idea, he sought the help of John C. Hagee… who has helped raise tens of millions of dollars for projects in Israel and for Jewish settlements in the West Bank. In March 2012, Pastor Hagee told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel about Mr. Sharp’s plans and helped connect Mr. Sharp and other Texas A&M officials with Israeli leaders.

…“The things we have in common with Israel are much greater than anything that would be separating us,” [Hagee said].

You remember John Hagee—he’s the guy who thinks Hitler was sent by God to “chase the Jewish people back to the land.” I don’t know if he’s listed that idea on the “things in common” or the “things that separate us” side of his ledger, but neither that opinion nor Hagee’s theology have ever kept right-wing Jews in Israel or America from using his fundraising prowess for their own ends.

All of which leads me to instinctively wrinkle my nose. The tendency among Christian Zionists (and not a few Jewish Zionists) to treat the modern nation-state of Israel as a sort of Disney version of The Promised Land is not, to put it mildly, my favorite thing. It’s a real place, with a real culture, real joys and sorrows, and not some pie-in-the-sky fulfillment of ancient prophecy.

But on the other hand, there’s this:

As many as 5,000 students will study there, officials said, with most coming from the Arab communities in and around Nazareth. Arabs make up more than 20 percent of the population of Israel, but only 11 percent of the student body in the country’s higher-education system.

…“There’s no significant academic presence in Arab towns and cities in Israel,” Mr. Trajtenberg said. “It will have a symbolic impact beyond the academic impact.”

Now, it could be argued that if Israel’s Council for Higher Education is worried about the lack of academic opportunity in Arab-Israeli municipalities, it could use some of the national budget (into which the citizens who live in those places pay their taxes)to address the issue. Waiting for foreigners to solve the problem isn’t necessarily the most responsible option.

Yet the fact is that the State of Israel has not chosen to invest in higher education in Arab-Israeli (more properly: Palestinian-Israeli) locales, and along comes Texas A&M—hardly a slouch in the higher education department. English-language instruction is a frankly deft way around the political stink that would no doubt arise if Israel dared establish an Arabic-language university, and should also provide anyone graduating with a leg up in the global marketplace. In short: Who am I to begrudge the good people of Nazareth a world-class institution?

Of course, all of this remains in the wait-and-see stage—not only have planners not yet broken ground, they haven’t even bought land; the Times reports that fundraising should begin “within weeks.” Many a grand idea has come and gone without leaving so much as a ripple.

But ultimately, I think I can only wish this project well. Given that Israel’s government has typically treated its Palestinian-Israeli citizens as little but a demographic burden (at best), Texas A&M represents the possibility of genuine improvement. Here’s to hoping it works.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

(In which Mary Schmich responds!)

I’ll just leave this here.

mary schmich tweet

(She was responding to this, but I would just like to note that Ms. Schmich does not, typically, reply on Twitter). (Ahem).

/does former papergirl happy dance/

Palestinian parents to be allowed to accompany children under Israeli interrogation.

This is what occupation looks like:

An Israeli judge at a Jerusalem Magistrate’s court ruled [last] Wednesday that the parents of young Palestinian detainees can attend police interrogation sessions with their children, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society said.

…Israeli police interrogate Palestinian children repeatedly without the presence of their parents and often force minors to confess to crimes using illegal methods, [Mufid al-Hajj, a lawyer with the Palestinian Prisoners Society], said.

The decision will be circulated to Israeli police stations in Jerusalem, the lawyer added.

Just in case it needs spelling out, what the foregoing means is that heretofore, Palestinian children have routinely not been allowed to have their parents with them when questioned by Israel’s security forces—and lest you think by “children,” I’m just talking about teenaged ruffians (who, it should be noted, also have a right to have their parents present when detained by police), I actually mean children as young as 12, 10, 8. Children as young as 5.

UNICEF reported last spring that

In the past 10 years, an estimated 7,000 children have been detained, interrogated, prosecuted and/or imprisoned within the Israeli military justice system – an average of two children each day.

…The common experience of many children is being aggressively awakened in the middle of the night by many armed soldiers and being forcibly brought to an interrogation center tied and blindfolded, sleep deprived and in a state of extreme fear. Few children are informed of their right to legal counsel…. Children are often prevented from saying goodbye to their parents and from putting on appropriate clothing for the journey.

 The majority of children prosecuted in the military courts are charged with throwing stones…. Data based on the work of organizations providing legal support to children show that children charged with throwing stones and prosecuted in the military courts are receiving prison sentences in the range of 2 weeks to 10 months.

Occasionally the children of Israeli settlers throw rocks at Palestinians. Earlier this month, a Palestinian six year old from the village of Umm al Ara’is approached a young settler boy, his hand outstretched—the two shook hands, and as the Palestinian boy walked away, the Israeli child bent down, picked up a rock, and threw it.

So, should the settler boy have been arrested by the many armed Israeli security personnel present at the time? On the other hand, if uniformed Israelis had not been present but Palestinian security forces had, should the Palestinians have arrested the Israeli child? And if either had happened—how would the world respond?

Currently there are some 30 Palestinian minors under the age of 16 in Israeli prisons. What if they were Israelis, in Palestinian prisons?

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

On pumpkin season – in which I seek to allay Mary Schmich’s autumnal worries.

Yesterday I sat in my living room and read the Sunday paper — on actual paper, as one does, if one has any remaining sense of decency and/or culture.

The Chicago Tribune is so small these days, shrunken in both page size and page numbers as bean counters continue to try to mitigate the damage done by Sam Zell and an entire culture that held that it was reasonable to expect a 20-30% return in print news, even as new technologies were changing our very understanding of the word “print.” When I delivered the Tribune as a young girl in sleeply suburban Lake Bluff, the Sunday paper was so massive that the delivery process could break your back, and if not your back then your bike, and if not your bike, then at the very least the panniers in which you had cram-jammed as many copies as you could fit for your first trip out on a frost-aired morning.

I’m sure veteran Tribune columnist Mary Schmich remembers those papers, and I’d guess that like me, she remembers them fondly — aside from her column duties, Schmich was also the writer of Brenda Starr for 25 years, and back when the Sunday paper weighed a ton, the comics pages were broad as a river, their brightness a kind of beacon amid the black and white spread across and tumbling off the coffee table. Although I often argue that the good old days weren’t actually all that good, some things really were better once upon a time. The Sunday paper is a sterling example. Nostalgia isn’t always wrong.

In yesterday’s Sunday paper, though, Mary Schmich argued for a different kind of nostalgia, one with which, alas, I cannot agree. In the course of a sweet rumination on the beauty of October in Chicago, she expressed frustration with the fact that pumpkins have become big business. “There was a time,” she wrote, “when a pumpkin was a pumpkin.”

Carve it up, stick a candle in, make a pumpkin pie. The humble pumpkin, however, has morphed into a marketing monster.

Autumn as Pumpkinpalooza.

There are pumpkin lattes (Starbucks). Pumpkin bagels (Einstein Bros). Pumpkin pie doughnuts (Dunkin’ Donuts). Pumpkin cheesecake doughnuts (Krispy Kreme). Pumpkin pie blizzards (Dairy Queen).

Schmich goes on to present an incomplete list of the pumpkin-flavored items currently available at Trader Joe’s — and though it is incomplete, the list numbers 14 items. It’s hard to argue with her logic.

Indeed, I’ve also been known to shake a metaphorical fist at pumpkins — and also in the general direction of inflatable lawn ornaments, a month’s worth of Halloween programming on Disney Channel, and the annual roll-out of “sexy” costumes for girls aged roughly toddler and up. Gentle reader, if you know me at all, you know me as a shaker of fists.

But lately I find myself taking a different approach to the Pumpkinization and/or Halloweenization Of Everything, because though it represents marketing run amok, though it encourages the sale of neon-green spider “webs” and bedazzled purple “spiders,” though the very idea of pumpkin in coffee is an outrage that should have coffee growers rioting in the streets — it’s all rooted in the season in which we happen to find ourselves, not the one that’s still two months down the road.

Moreover, not only is Pumpkinpalooza an entirely autumnal affair, not only does it fend off the frantic selling of The Holidays until at least November 1, not only does it mean that I can re-stock my supply of Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle Mix (note: pumpkin pancakes are not an outrage) — it’s also completely American and utterly without import.

Christmas actually means something, and that something is a thing which many Americans do not celebrate or in which they find no meaning, and much as we rabbit on about “the holidays,” as if to include Hanukkah and the New Year, we all know which holiday is king.

And I’m kind of ok with that. I’m Jewish, but that just means that I’m in the minority — as are the atheists, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Muslims, and all the many, many Americans for whom Christmas is not their jam. The vast majority of our American brothers and sisters celebrate Christmas some way or another, and the captains of industry long ago realized they could make a buck off of joy. So ok: From November 1st, it’s red and green as far as the eye can see.

But in October, everyone can just be a regular American. Whatever All Hallows Eve once meant, modern-day Halloween no longer means anything even remotely similar, and the pumpkin in our foodstuffs means even less. It’s just a kind of collective silliness, an enjoyment of frivolity and sugar, with a nod to the harvest and bounty and your unalienable right to scary yourself silly. I can drive around with my kids, gaping at houses bedecked in Halloween ghoulery, and feel that nothing but my own curmudgeonly and mildly lazy character stands between me and my neighbors. I can love the smell of fall leaves and secretly miss the smell of them burning, eat too much candy corn and be grateful it’s a once-a-year thing, and freely mock Pumpkin Spice Latte enthusiasts with fellow cranks everywhere.

So Ms. Schmich, let me just say: I, too, remember the days before Pumpkinpalooza, and I agree there is a certain shine to the memory. But mostly what our new fall traditions have done (in addition to further lining some well-lined pockets) is carve out a little breathing space for the here and now, to be equally shared by all Americans. It’s ok.

And just in case you might want to come over someday for pumpkin-free coffee and an Airing of Grievances about inflatable ghosts, I’ll save you a chair. I’ll even share the comics.

Re-up: The social implications of a cookie.

“Training the world” — my essay about little girls and body image — has kind of gone slow-mo viral since I posted it last month, first getting decent attention here, then getting picked up by xoJane, then suddenly getting *huge* attention here, then getting picked up by the Huffington Post, and then, just today, getting picked up by HuffPost Canada. I’m so pleased, because if ever there was a post that I would want to go viral, that’s the one — I believe that we do real damage to our girls when we fail to address the ways in which our social norms and mores encourage them to loathe and distrust the only body they will ever have, and we need to talk about that.

But I genuinely believe that we are doing no less damage to ourselves. And so, I decided to re-up the following (first posted this past summer). I think anyone who found this blog because of “Training the world” will find it of interest, too. Thank you so much for being here!


chocolate chip cookieJust once, when I happen to be in a group of women, I’d like to have a cookie without having to consider the social implications of having a cookie.

This happened to me recently — I was at a little teacher-organized gathering of kids and parents, having a brief conversation with a small handful of women. One turned to the rest of us and said “I want a cookie. Does anyone else want a cookie?” and as one, the rest of us smiled and said no. The cookie-fetcher then said “Well, now I feel bad, I’ll be the only one taking a cookie!” and came back with an apple.

Now, I am a fan of apples and have nothing against them. Apples are a fine thing. And sometimes I genuinely do not want a cookie.

But I have no idea if I wanted a cookie in that moment or not. I just know that when I’m in a gathering of women (particularly if I don’t know them very well), I almost never reach for sweets. I am a woman of Joan-esque proportions, minus all the foundation garments, and I know that I live in a society that has a lot of opinions about women of my size and the consumption of baked goods.

I do not talk about it, will not bond (as so many of us are trained to do) over self-hatred, will not discuss anyone’s weight, exercise program, dress size, or shape (unless it’s to be conspicuously comfortable with the fact that I am large-bosomed). I know that sometimes these conversations can be perfectly healthy and self-affirming, but they too often are not, and I lack the skills to judge each and every conversation on the spot, so I participate in none.

But I am too good at hearing the whispers passing through people’s minds (or the whispers that I fear might be passing there, or the whispers of girls with whom I went to junior high, or the ones on TV) — and so while I will not engage in the body-shaming, neither will I engage in the cookie-eating.

Unless I do. Unless I make a conscience choice to make a political statement and have a cookie in front of God and everybody. Nearly as soon as the apple-bearing woman returned with her apple, I was sorry I hadn’t said some suburban-mom version of “Hellyeah I’ll have a motherfucking cookie!!” Because women need to see each other eating normally, enjoying their food, not weighing every bite. We model behavior for each other, we owe that to each other. I don’t know if I wanted a cookie, but I should have had one.

I always have one when there are kids around, especially if those kids are girls. If the kids are girls, I’ll have two cookies, and talk about how good they are, and counter any self-hating, food-limiting, body-slagging talk that may bubble up as quickly as I can. Because I’m the adult, and I need to model behavior for them, I owe that to them, to show them that women can eat normally, enjoy their food, not weigh every bite.

I don’t blame Women. And I certainly don’t blame the women I happened to be with today, or any women with whom I happen to find myself. I blame All Of Us. I blame society as individuals and society as a collective. I blame me, I blame the magazines at the grocery store, I blame 100-calorie packs and the corporate mind that conceived of them. I blame the air we breathe. I even kind of blame religion, because we have forever bought and sold a terrible, soul-killing notion that our bodies are bad, that they must be controlled, that not controlling our bodies in some vague, amorphous way (because we have to eat something, there’s no avoiding that, so constant vigilance is the only way) is a failure, a sin, something to be condemned, to be shunned, to be mocked, to be shamed. As if God did not know what He was doing when He created us. As if God did not make each and everyone of us to love and be loved, for who we are. For who and how He made us.

All of this, on every cookie (or piece of cake, or scoop of ice cream) that I eat in public. All of it.

Sometimes, I wish I could just eat a cookie.

For my next birthday….

You have a little over eleven months to prepare, which should be plenty of time to get me this combination staircase/bookshelf/slide:

Just what every girl needs, really.

Thoughts on shipping.

A ship-shipping ship, shipping shipping ships. source (for the image, as well as the caption)

A ship-shipping ship, shipping shipping ships. source (for the caption as well as the image. I’m not that clever).

Not that kind of shipping. Shipping. Like when you write fan fiction (on paper or in your head) in which fictional characters fall in luuuuve with each other and (presumably, at some point) have sex and/or are permanently joined together in sacred and/or fleshy bliss. It comes from the word “relationship” – hence “shipping,” as in: “I ship Harry and Ron, everyone knows they were the real love story at Hogwarts!”

And if you don’t know it yet — yes, that really is a thing, all across the various realms of geekdom, and recently more broadly in popular culture. So you’ll have fan communities who create art or write stories or make videos that bring together two (or more) characters who were not imagined by their creator as romantically involved.

Coupla things. Thing the First, and let’s just get this out of the way: I have a thing about canon. The creator is, to my mind, God in the universe of these characters to whom we feel so attached, and thus, if JK Rowling didn’t think that Harry and Ron would fall in love — well, she would know. Plain and simple. It’s one thing to create fan art that builds on the creator’s world, but I honestly think it’s another thing entirely to upend the story as the creator intended for it to be told. In my always humble (and probably minority) opinion.

But here’s Thing the Second, and Thing the Second is actually the thing that I believe is most important.

Most of these imagined relationships (Harry-Ron, Kirk-Spock, Jess-Jules [Bend It Like Beckham], Arthur-Merlin [Merlin], Katniss-Peeta-Gale, etc and so on, ad infinitum) don’t just upend the story as originally conceived, they upend the sexuality of those involved, often because the characters are so close — their relationship runs so deep — that we do not know how to let it be friendship. We do not know how to understand need and longing and fierce loyalty, unless it’s about romance and sexuality.

And thus, to my mind, when we ship Kirk and Spock, or Arthur and Merlin, or Sam and Frodo, we’re not only doing a disservice to the creator’s vision, we’re dishonoring the characters, and revealing more about about ourselves and our society than we may have intended. 

Note, for instance, that most shipping seems to entail male characters — as a society, we’re usually ok with girls and women loving each other and expressing that love in a way that is not romantic or sexual. Men on the other hand? We really don’t know what to do with that.

So we change it. We diminish and dismiss men’s capacity for loving each other — truly, deeply loving each other — and insist that such love can only find true expression in something akin to 21st century notions of romance and sexuality.

Once upon a time, in mid-19th century America, men wrote love letters to each other — honest to God, “I haven’t been able to stop thinking of our last hours spent together,” love letters to each other. Like, it was thing. You wrote to your friends and told them how you felt.

And true to late-20th/early 21st century form, letters such as these have led some to conclude that Abraham Lincoln himself was gay, despite copious evidence to the contrary — because why else would he express such tender affection for a man? Even though I presume that at least some of the men writing these letters were, in fact, expressing an emotion to which they were otherwise unable to give voice, sheer statistics would suggest that most of them weren’t. Which is to say: We weren’t always like this, America.

I do understand that some fan fic/shipping comes in response to the appalling dearth of LGBTQ love stories in our culture, and I guess it’s easier for me, a straight woman, to not want to validate the work that some people create around a love they’d like to see expressed. I will concede that.

But beyond that, mostly it just cheeses me off. You cannot tell me that a romantic, sexual relationship between Sam and Frodo would have been deeper or more real than the relationship we are told they had; you cannot tell me that Merlin’s love for Arthur was any less because they didn’t have sex.

I’m tired of telling boys and men that they cannot, may not love each other — frankly, shipping of this kind is little more than the flip-side of guys who yell “No homo!” after a big hug. There is nothing wrong with men falling in love with other men; there is also nothing wrong with men having loving friendships.

And with that, I have likely sealed my fate in the geek community, and so I bid you adieu. It was fun while it lasted. I’ll just be over here, reading my books.

Josh Hutcherson: “I would probably list myself as mostly straight.”

Josh Hutcherson — a young man who might just make the 40-something among us long for their misspent youth, and furthermore can be seen below holding a puppy, just to make that longing more acute — appears to be a hell of a young man. If one is to believe the interviews one occasionally reads, most recently, in Out Magazine:

“I have this dream that one day, my kid’s gonna come home from school and be like, ‘Dad, there’s this girl that I like, and there’s this guy that I like, and I don’t know which one I like more, and I don’t know what to do.’ And it’d just be a non-issue, like, ‘Which one is a good person? Which one makes you laugh more?’ ”

To read the whole interview, click here — but let me warn you: You’ll have to look past an inordinate amount of fashionably applied hair gel. I mean, it won’t kill you, but honestly, Out Magazine — his hair was fine.

(Also, I may or may not have just re-watched The Hunger Games with the family and not for nothing but #TeamPeetaForLife).

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