Monday, April 24, 2006

Tony Ahmadinejad Bin Laden and the I-Hate-Israel Lobby

It had been a cold, soggy and hectic Sunday in the Big City and when I finally logged onto late in the evening, it was deja vu all over again.

Sing-song voice captured on an audiotape (so 20th century!) that had been slipped to Al Jazeera, there was the psycho-prophet of doom intoning his poisonous and paranoid philosophy of the world from his uber-undisclosed location...and, as an extra bonus, hinting at impending terrorism against American civilians.

Networks, cable stations, newspapers, analysts, commentators and pundits went instantly meshuggah, because, let's face it, bin Laden is the biggest celebrity there is, the baddest of the bad, completely elusive, eschewing power suits for shmattes, refusing to grant live interviews, pissing off paparazzi the world over, cooly confident that his every syllable will be deconstructed and duplicated.

So, nu? What pearls of wisdom did Osama leave us with this time?

The usual naarishkeit, for the most part -- Islam is under seige by "Zionists and crusaders," blah, blah, blah -- but there were some chiddushim as well. Osama alluded to the war in the Sudan, creatively spinning America's effort to halt the genocide in Darfur as an attack against Islam. He called on his minions to "prepare for a long war against the crusader plunderers in western Sudan." He was as furious as the mother of the geeky kid who is routinely excluded from other kids' birthday parties, chastising the international community for its refusal to fund the Hamas government, stating that that very action "proves that there is a Zionist-crusaders war on Islam."

Most troubling, Osama lumped American civilians together into one mushy, indistinguisible Bush-supporting mass, holding all of us -- in our glorious diversity -- responsible for the war in Iraq and therefore fair game for beleaguered Muslims who try to protect themselves against Big Bad Us.

Something tells me that the defensive behavior he is alluding to is akin to what Hamas labelled its own act of self-defense last week in Tel Aviv. As of the posting of this entry, it is not clear whether the horrendous attack yesterday on the Egyptian resort town of Dabah was the brainchild of Al Qaeda. What is, however, abundantly clear is that many "crusaders" were killed in the attacks, including a German child.

The experts' consensus on the authenticity of Sunday's audiotape is all-thumbs-up. It is bin Laden's second public address in the last three months, taking a markedly more confrontational approach to his last tape, which offered Westerners peace in exchange for withdrawal from Iraq. While no one should be overly-surprised at the contents of Osama's newest missive, it is nevertheless creepy news to wake up to... or try to go to sleep by.

The creepiness of Osama's desert ramblings, however, reminded me of something else. The edge of hysteria, the hatred, the illogic, the nose for conspiracy, the obsession with Zionists....oh, yeah...Tony Judt, as most recently captured in his New York Times Op-Ed on April 19th, the seventh day of Passover.

Like Osama's misplaced Mama-rage at the world for not giving money to his little mamzer, Hamas, Judt vented his maternal rage at the world for ignoring the blabberings of his little maziks, John Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, who published a work one month earlier that essentially plagiarizes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

By this time, most observers of the Middle East are aware of the publication of "The Israel Lobby," a whittled-down version of an 83-page paper that appeared in the London Review of Books in late March. By publishing this piece safely outside of the Jewish-friendly borders of the United States, its authors -- Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Walt of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government -- hoped to secure some measure of support for their central, unoriginal idea, which is -- Omigod! The Jews control the world! Or at least the government of the United States and its foreign policy!

Much ink has been spilled on this silly document and refuted by minds greater than mine, or at least bearing more academic credentials. I could (but won't) include a list of links to lead the interested reader to websites that offer a point-by-point rebuttal to each of the authors' paranoid points regarding Jews and world domination. I could (but won't) shoot arrows through many of the arguments myself as they are so flimsy and fueled with equal measures of hatred and frustration at Israel's unpardonable sin -- her continued existence in the face of so much hatred.

Suffice it to say that following the appearance of this pseudo-academic treatise, a battalion of brilliant Op-Eds and essays emerged from such venues as the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, US News and World Report, the New Republic, the Forward, the LA Times and so forth....and kicked the s&*t out of the Walt/Mearsheimer paper.

Hence, Tony Judt's Op-Ed of last week in the New York Times.

Beginning with a completely false premise -- that the"mostly uncontentious" Walt/Mearsheimer paper has been deprived of its natural right to be debated in an open manner, Judt charges that the piece has instead elicited a "somewhat hysterical response" that he traces back, by innuendo, to the "powerful Israel lobby." Evidently miffed that wackos like David Duke have been the predominant endorsers of the Walt/Mearsheimer argument, Judt throws his own wacko politics onto the pyre, trying to give his pals some gravitas by arguing their case for them in the journalistic public square, oddly impervious to the fact that many of the readers of The New York Times also read his foaming-at-the-mouth 2003 rant in the New York Review of Books which built the Judtian case for dismantling Israel.

As the author of one of the most disturbingly hate-filled public cases against Israel (move over, Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky), Tony Judt has not one iota of credibility among the non-Israel-hating public.

As infuriating as it was to open up the Wednesday Times and see the majority of the Op-Ed page obliterated by this failed effort to resuscitate the Walt/Mearsheimer POV (all the while acutely aware that observant Jews reading the paper would be prevented from expressing their outrage in letters to the editor until Thursday night, when the holiday ended), Judt's piece only served to remind readers that, in his 2003 article, he blamed Israel for the war in Iraq, insanely charged that Iran has been a "longstanding target of Israeli wrath," falsely foresaw settlers choosing to wreak devastation on Arabs rather than relocate (eat your heart out, you hate-sickened meiskeit), and exonerated attacks against Jews by "young Muslims" as "misdirected get back at Israel."

"The depressing truth," scrawled the Jewish Englishman at the end of his earlier article, "is that Israel today is bad for the Jews."

Re-reading the 2003 NY Review of Books essay in the wake of last week's Times Op-Ed, I was struck anew by the depth of Judt's rage against Israel -- a bottomless rage that feebly attempts to masquerade itself as the bold and analytical critique of an historian but ultimately reveals itself for what it is -- a pathological displacement of some other, more personal issue in his life, stemming perhaps in his English childhood, which included (by his own admission) a certain measure of anti-Semitism.

As a freelance observer of public Jewish anti-Zionists, I have noted certain parallels in their reasoning and the presentation of their points and am forming my own working hypothesis on the origins of this syndrome, which I view as more pathological than political. Let me give a hint of my hypothesis by stating that I believe there to be a fundamental flaw in the thinking of these (mostly) men. It is exceedingly interesting to me that the "critique" offered by folks like Judt is not a critique at all but a wholesale bashing of the entire Israeli enterprise.

In the writings and verbal rantings of Judt and company, which sadly includes some Israeli academics, Israel can do no right. The public Jewish anti-Zionists write out of a sense of personal broiges with the Holy Land and, by extension, Jews. Deconstruct their arguments -- or simply pay close attention -- and the transparency of their personal problem with the existence of the Jewish State becomes embarrassingly evident. According to the Judenfrei worldview that they have constructed, the world would be better off without Israel (the Jews). Time and again, Israel's supposed sins are trotted out within a context that is weirdly devoid of any mention of the ongoing threat to her existence that Israel has faced, or any of the truly bad guys in the region, for that matter.

Or, horribly, as in the case of Judt, the threat is repackaged as the Hamas "defense" defense of last week...poor "young Muslims" simply trying to "get back" at Israel by attacking old Jewish men in Moscow, young Jewish men in Paris, a shul in London.

Judt's obscene justification arises out of the same weltanschaung as Osama's blanket threat against all American civilians. We are fair game now because our alleged victims are simply trying to "get back" at us.

And most disgustingly, tucked into the presentations of the public Jewish anti-Zionists, there is always the implication of Israel and the Jews using the memory of the Shoah to rationalize their "Nazi-like" behavior. Perhaps the most stunning, nausea-inducing statement of all in Judt's recent essay is the following:

"In the eyes of a watching world, the fact that an Israeli soldier's great-grandmother died in Treblinka will not excuse his own misbehavior."

Writing this blog on the morning of Yom HaShoah, I am moved to ask: Tony, are you for real? What particular misbehavior are you referring to? Is it the exemplary manner in which the IDF evicted its largely-peaceful settlers, the ones you predicted would erupts in an apocalyptic orgy of violence against Arabs? Do you read the papers? Have you visited the hospitals where the innumerable victims of Arab hatred against Israel are recuperating from wounds inflicted because they are...Jews? Like you. How on earth can you even write these words days after an 18-year-old Palestinian boy blew himself up on a busy Tel Aviv street, taking innocent lives, not all of them Jews?

The last time I checked, Israeli soldiers were no more guilty of misbehavior than any other soldiers in the imperfect -- and sadly necessary -- institution known as the military. It is your ability, no, compulsion, to selectively hone in on the alleged "misbehavior" of a grandson of a Treblinka survivor, just as it is to rant about Israel's global "misbehavior" in the face of the barbarous actions of the nations around it who have committed themselves publicly to the destruction of Israel that is, frankly, pathological.

Was it horrible being a Jewish boy in England in the 1950's? Did you have the s*%t beaten out of you walking home from school? Were you skinny and short with glasses and a prominent nose? Did you lose relatives in the Shoah? Are you tired of belonging to a nation that becomes, in every generation, the scapegoat for the world's ills? Do you think that by standing on a chair and yelling "I Hate Israel!" louder than all the goyim, that you will somehow become the good Jew in the eyes of the world's anti-Semites? Do you think that the support of Jew-haters the world over -- including Iran's President Ahmandinejad who basically parrotted your point of view yesterday, reiterating his belief that Israel should not exist -- is your reward?

Or is it something more painfully personal, having to do with Mum and Dad? Do you rage against Israel because you really rage against your Jewish parents?

I admit it -- I am fascinated by you and your fellow public Jewish anti-Zionists. I have gone to hear Daniel Barenboim bring the house down with his condemnation of Israel, I have been in the audience when that serious psycho Norman Finklestein damns Israel and denies the Shoah in one amazing feat, I have read the confused confessions of Michael Lerner which truly attempt to transcend personal woundedness but always end up socking Israel in the eye, mouth agape, I have read Noam Chomsky with the riveted attention one gives to a public act of indecency or madness.

And I have read you, Tony, in an attempt to understand what the hell happened to you to make you so sick on a spiritual level.

Regarding you and your chevre, it has occurred to me that the compassionate and proactive response of the Jewish community (yes, we are a community even as we're busy being a sinister and influential lobby) would be to announce a campaign to raise funds so that the entire bunch of you could be trundled up and sent to a comfortable yet undisclosed location where a year's worth of free psychotherapy would be provided, because you guys are all so profoundly and pathetically fu*&ed up.

But perhaps I am being unfair, or even unkind. I was taught as a child that it is mean to make fun of people who are disabled or retarded or otherwise impaired. And if your Israel impairment came as the result of something horribly traumatic, I would like to know about it. It would make me understand your personal anti-Semitism a bit better.

So here is a legitimate and public invitation: I am asking you to join me on a two- to three-hour hiking date at the setting of your choosing, wherein I might have the opportunity to hear you out. Sitting in a restaurant would give me shpilkes and I want to create an opportunity for conversation to flow freely, unimpeded by the eavesdropping of neighboring diners. Besides, I love the great outdoors. While I can recommend numerous wonderful settings within an hour's drive of New York City, such as Bear Mountain, Harriman Park, the Adirondack Trail, the Heritage Trail, Hook Mountain and other such places, it would be nice if you got to choose your favorite hiking spot.

In the course of our hiking date, I would like to get to know you -- intellectually and spiritually. Don't worry about anything romantic, I am a married woman. But I think we would get along, after all, I'm a good listener and we've got a lot in common. You teach at NYU, I live across the street from Columbia University -- we're practically neighbors. You're Jewish and I'm Jewish -- we're practically mishpocha. You are obsessed with Israel and I am obsessed with Israel -- there is no danger that we'd run out of conversation.

So let me reiterate my sincere invitation: Tony, would you join me, on a hiking date somewhere in the New York area, so that I may get to know you? You can reply to me via e-mail at

I look forward to spending time together and challenging my personal opinion about you and your sadly fu*&ed-up views.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Diary of the Daughter of an Escaped Hebrew Slave

At 8:40 yesterday, I strode into Skyview Wine and Liquor on Riverdale Avenue charged with a mission -- to outfit Seders #1 and #2 with numerous bottles of sophisticated Kosher for Passover wine, predominantly red, with one bottle of the sweet stuff thrown in for tradition's sake.

At 8:41, I stopped dead in my tracks, completely and utterly overwhelmed. Whereas my friendly Manhattan liquor store had a nicely-contained kosher section from which I grab the same bottle of Noah Merlot at every visit, this entire emporium seemed devoted to the task of getting Jewish people totally tanked and to this end, offered scores of kosher offerings from the four corners of the earth.

I had a moment of sheer vertigo as I stared down racks and rows of merlots, chiantis, cabernets, bordeaux, burgundies, chenin blancs, reislings, chablises, beaujolaises, riojas and other types of wine I had never heard of before...all blessed with rabbinic supervision. Holy @#$%! I thought, glancing wildly around the store for some assistance. So many little knowledge!

Fortunately, a savvy young dude in a suit and kippah appeared by my side -- drawn, no doubt, by my audible hyperventilation -- and offered his assistance. Five minutes and $180 later, I walked out with my case of sophisticated reds, respectable whites and a bottle of barely-alcoholic Kool-Aid disguised as Kedem Concord Grape.

I have no idea what I actually bought, only that it was met with a cocked eyebrow of approval by HOBB (Husband of Bungalow Babe) and by disbelief by 17-year-old Middle Babe when I pulled up in front of our apartment building in our red minivan to unload both the booze and the last-minute Fairway shopping from pre-Passover trip #1000.

"How much did you buy?" she demanded as Alfie the Pomeranian strained at the leash. BOMB, her adorable curly-haired boyfriend, waved in greeting. He wore sandals in celebration of the springlike weather. I know they had tried -- and failed -- to get into a Ranger's game earlier this evening and ended up going for dinner in midtown. Now they were bound, with Alfie, for a Starbucks on Broadway and W115th Street for a quick tea before we launched into b'dikat chametz -- the ritual of hiding -- and seeking -- pieces of bread in one's house in preparation for entering the leavening-free zone of Passover.

About 20 minutes later, the wines all shelved, the food from Fairway squeezed into fridge and the Passover pantry, HOBB and I dispatched 10-year-old Little Babe to hide chunks of an Italian sub (purchased a couple of hours earlier from Hamilton Deli) throughout the apartment. "Only ten," HOBB admonished Little Babe. "And remember where you hid them!"

As Little Babe set out with his bag of bread, chuckling diabolically, Big Babe, our eldest son, a junior at Columbia University, showed up from his dorm across the street at East Campus. He had interrupted his writing of a paper on James Joyce to participate in this beloved ritual. Shortly, Middle Babe and BOMB returned with Alfie from their walk, Little Babe crowed that the bread was hidden and the whole family gathered in front of the dining room table to commence the ritual.

B'dikat chametz literally means "checking for unleavened food," and it is the penultimate ritual prior to the official beginning of Passover. (The final ritual is biyyur chametz, or the burning of the chametz, where one takes the assembled bread from b'dikat chametz and burn it in a bonfire the following morning -- though some people also participate in that legalistic fiction exercise of mekhirat chametz, the selling of one's non-Passover food to a non-Jew, which enables one both not to own nor get rid of one's unleavened food during the holiday. Afterwards, one simply "buys" it back.)

In any case, by the time one tip-toes through one's abode, candle in hand, seeking out hidden crumbs, the house has to be thoroughly cleaned and prepared for the holiday. For people like us -- who merge traditional observance with a decidedly un-OCD attitude towards cleaning -- the preparations for the holiday are actually fun, even if they do entail a certain amount of physical labor, such as the shlepping of Passover pots, dishes and silverware out of their storage places and marathon food shopping.

Though Jewish law mandates perfoming b'dikat chametz immediately following sundown on the night before the Eve of Passover, we decided to wait until the older children could be home as b'dikat chametz is a beloved ritual, solemn yet goofy, performed in darkness and silence. Walking in a line through the unlit night apartment, we search by the light of a lone candle for pieces of bread, refraining from speech yet making all kinds of noises to indicate confusion or revelation or appreciation for an especially witty hiding place.

When all the bread is discovered, we bundle the pieces, the candle, the feather we used to sweep the surface clean and usually a handkerchief into a package to be sent for burning the next morning. We utter a prayer in Aramaic that renders us free of responsibility for all further, unknown leavened products lurking in our abode. We have only 12 hours left at the point within which to eat such foods -- outside of the house, of course -- before the observance of the eight-day Passover holiday begins.

It is now morning, the Eve of Passover, and I am writing these words as Little and Middle Babe are sleeping. HOBB and Big Babe went to an early synagogue service -- siyyum bechorim --- the feast of the firstborns, which caps a ritual for first-born Jewish males who might normally be required to fast in homage to Pharoah's decree to kill their ancient counterparts and the final, horrific Plague -- death of the first-born sons -- from which all Hebrews were exempt due to the painting of their thresholds with blood to avert the Angel of Death.

All is quiet and ready for Passover, save for the cooking of the first seder meal, which I will undertake around 3 pm. On the phone last night, my sister-in-law, who is sailing off to a hotel for the entire holiday with my parents (for the past fifteen years or so, my mother has refused to make Passover at home), asked me if I finished cooking yet. As I was on my way to Fairway to track down meat, fruit and walnuts, I had to laugh. I have never cooked anything more than a few hours in advance over the course of my entire adulthood and hope I never do. The secret ingredient in my cooking is adrenaline.

But truly, the secret ingredient in my Seder meals is love of the holiday. As HOBB and I cleaned and shlepped and shopped and planned -- often deep into the night -- a deep joy and relaxation spread over me. While I love all Jewish holidays I am especially fond of this one, which mandates that we meet up with our ancestors, the escaping Hebrew slaves, and cross the Red Sea together, sharing with them that moment of nation-making and freedom.

Dipping into the moxie of our great-great-great-grandparents every year for the duration of our history as a people is a key element of the so-called Secrets of Jewish Survival. Sitting around the Seder table, we recall their refusal to accept slavery as their lot. In the most privileged and most dismal of circumstances, Jews have observed Passover, told tales from the Hagaddah, sang songs from the Seder, tasted bitter herbs, hid the afikomen, banished leavened products from their households. The result is an awesome, millenia-long chain of observance, indestructible.

And though there has been a growing tradition of retreating to special Passover hotels and resorts -- in the Catskills, in Arizona, in Mexico, in Israel, in California, in Florida, aboard cruises and ever more exotic locales -- for staggering sums of money (about 10 K for a family of 5 for the entire holiday), I staunchly defend the endangered practice of making Passover at home, centering it within the place we conduct our normal lives.

Passover is an opportunity to enter into a realm of complete otherness and dwell there for eight days, connecting with one's past and future, emerging transformed.

So it was that last night on Morningside Heights, a family of five plus a visiting boyfriend and the resident Pomeranian, stopped the rhythm of their 21st century lives and entered into the ancient ritual of b'dikat chametz, checking for unleavened bread products, forbidden during Passover. With exaggerated hand-motions and lots of silly sounds, they proceeded through the darkened rooms of their Columbia apartment, seeking out the 10 pieces of bread that their youngest member had planted, awaiting discovery.

Between last night and 3 pm today, there is still the business of the professional world to attend to...classes to be taught, press releases to be sent to the media, students to meet with, ads to be written, calls to be made and returned. Yet, in about six hours, the parents of this family will haul out their pots and pans and embark upon the cooking of the first Seder meal, remembering to set out bowls of salt water to recall the tears of the slaves, sprigs of parsley to designate springtime, the delicious walnut, wine and apple dish called haroset which pays homage to the bricks built by the slaves, the burnt turkey neck to recall the sacrificial shankbone, slivers of horseradish root to recall the bitterness of affliction....and, of course, matza, the uber-unleavened product.

The ritual items of the Passover seder will dwell alongside the roast turkey, savory meat, steamed asparagus, herbed potatoes, eggplant stew, salads and desserts of the sumptuous feast that is a symbol of our freedom. And when the children and guests fill the table with conversation and the ancient text of the Hagaddah, the celebration will be complete.

Happy Passover!