Behind disputed views of Jewish identity looms a much larger question about the future of inclusive societies

The Guardian reports: The US State Department has moved to back America’s ambassador to Israel in a febrile and escalating row over his remarks on Monday that Israel applied law in the occupied West Bank differently to Palestinians and Israelis.

Ambassador Daniel Shapiro’s unusually critical comments drew harsh criticism from ministers in Israel’s rightwing government – including from the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

Shapiro was also publicly lambasted on Israeli television on Tuesday by a former aide to Netanyahu who used the deeply offensive Hebrew word “yehudon” – which translates as “little Jew boy” – to disparage the ambassador. The term is used by rightwing Israelis against other Jews – particularly those in the diaspora – whom they regard as not being sufficiently Jewish or pro-Israel. [Continue reading…]

The remarks by Aviv Bushinsky, who served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff when he was finance minister in Ariel Sharon’s governmen, are reminiscent of an incident reported by the Washington Post in 1997.

U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk, still seething at a two-week-old slur, ran into his accuser Thursday and fixed him with a glare. According to Ephraim Sneh, a Labor Party member of Israel’s legislature, this is what happened next:

“The last time someone called me a Jew boy,” Indyk said, harking back to school days in Australia, “I was 15 years old and he got a punch in the face.”

A right-wing legislator, Rehavam Zeevi, had indeed called Indyk a yehudon — Hebrew invective translated variously as “Jew boy,” “yid,” or “kike” — at a parliamentary caucus late last month. He looked up from his seat at a memorial service for the late Yitzhak Rabin and glared back at Indyk. “Try me,” Zeevi replied. Then, taunting Indyk, he added distinctly: “yehudon, yehudon.”

Zeevi, a retired general who is chief of the ultranationalist Moledet (Homeland) party, apparently meant to say that Indyk, the first Jewish U.S. ambassador here, betrayed his coreligionists by pressuring the Israeli government for concessions in peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. Zeevi’s political platform, the most extreme of any party in the parliament, calls for expulsion of Arabs from the West Bank to make room for Jews.

A.B. Yehoshua, one of Israel’s most famous novelists, has for many years been among the most vocal in promoting this view that Jews who remain living outside Israel are only, as he says, “partial Jews.”

But instead of being preoccupied with where Jews plant their bodies, he and those who share his views, might consider where the Jewish conscience may better thrive.

In 2003, Avraham Burg, former member of the Knesset, a chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel and a Speaker of the Knesset, who was born in Jerusalem, wrote:

It turns out that the 2,000-year struggle for Jewish survival comes down to a state of settlements, run by an amoral clique of corrupt lawbreakers who are deaf both to their citizens and to their enemies. A state lacking justice cannot survive. More and more Israelis are coming to understand this as they ask their children where they expect to live in 25 years. Children who are honest admit, to their parents’ shock, that they do not know. The countdown to the end of Israeli society has begun.

It is very comfortable to be a Zionist in West Bank settlements such as Beit El and Ofra. The biblical landscape is charming. From the window you can gaze through the geraniums and bougainvilleas and not see the occupation. Traveling on the fast highway that takes you from Ramot on Jerusalem’s northern edge to Gilo on the southern edge, a 12-minute trip that skirts barely a half-mile west of the Palestinian roadblocks, it’s hard to comprehend the humiliating experience of the despised Arab who must creep for hours along the pocked, blockaded roads assigned to him. One road for the occupier, one road for the occupied.

This cannot work. Even if the Arabs lower their heads and swallow their shame and anger forever, it won’t work. A structure built on human callousness will inevitably collapse in on itself. Note this moment well: Zionism’s superstructure is already collapsing like a cheap Jerusalem wedding hall. Only madmen continue dancing on the top floor while the pillars below are collapsing.

As much as all of this might sound purely like a struggle over Jewish identity, it mirrors an affliction in which people across the globe withdraw into their various ethnic, religious, or ideological ghettos of identification and their cherished definitions of my people.

The testing ground for challenging this trend is now Europe.

Last year, Burg wrote:

In a generation in which we Israelis have forgotten how to be sensitive and empathetic to minorities, to those who are different, to the persecuted, and many American Jews are swallowed up in their comfort zones of white society and are abandoning their partnership with the “others,” in America, the “United States of Europe” is presenting a new model of identity – a union between those who are different, and the “other.” It’s a model no different from the American one which seeks to assimilate all into a monochromatic American democracy.

Further, Europe is the current meeting point between Islam and the West. Some of that encounter involves clashes, and some involves learning. The Christian continent is learning to make space for other, rich and varied identities. My friends, Ziya from Bangladesh, Shaida whose family is from Turkey and Rob from Jamaica, are impressive Europeans, and Europe is better off with them. Just like Shaul from Venice, Yoop from Amsterdam and Brian from London – there is no dissonance between their Jewish heritage and their European identity. The discourse between white, Christian Europe and those who are different is fascinating. More important is the dialogue between Western Europe and the Muslim forces in its midst.

The Muslim world and some of its members are embarking on a long journey toward the Western values of freedom, equality and brotherhood. The institutionalization of Western Islam in the heart of Europe – that which is absorbing values of democracy while remaining true to Muslim tradition – is where the strategic potential exists for bridging the gaps peacefully in the generations to come. It’s not happening in the Middle East or North America, but only in Europe. That is where the vanguard of humanity and humaneness is to be found.

Since Burg wrote this, the vision of Europe has become profoundly challenged by an expanding refugee crisis, acts of terrorism, growing nationalism, cultural protectionism, and the drumbeats of xenophobia and Islamophobia.

Both in Europe and the U.S., it often seems like the political momentum favors those who promote retreat in its various forms — through strengthening borders, heightened national security, and disengagement from foreign affairs.

At the same time, the inexorable global trends point in the opposite direction as populations expand and people choose or are compelled to cross borders.

In such a world, the task of building more inclusive societies is not an idealistic goal; it has become an urgent necessity.

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How British do British Muslims feel?

By Saffron Karlsen, University of Bristol

The prime minister, David Cameron, has launched a number of measures aimed at improving integration among Muslims – in particular, Muslim women – in the UK. Polls show that around 70% of people don’t think Muslims are well integrated into British society and concern that Muslim people living in Britain do not feel British has long been part of broader discussions around extremism.

So, now seems like a good time to take a closer look at how British Muslims actually feel about their place in society and to explore the link between segregation and extremism in greater depth. Along with Professor James Nazroo, I conducted research into these issues using nationally representative data, collected in 2008/09 from almost 5,000 people with different ethnic and religious backgrounds, as a part of the Home Office Citizenship Survey. We found that these ideas about British Muslims are not backed up by evidence.

[Read more…]

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Is Marine Le Pen in bed with Putin?

The Daily Beast reports: On May 11, delegates from Europe’s political fringes travelled to Donetsk, the occupied ‘capital’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), for a forum to mark the first anniversary of the proclamation of the Russian-backed separatist entities in Ukraine. This in itself is unsurprising since far-right politicians have been used on several occasions to lend a veneer of legitimacy to Russia’s puppet statelets and sham votes since the invasion of Crimea last year.

The attendance roster for this confab included some familiar pro-Putin faces such as French far-right Member of European Parliament Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, Italian nationalist Alessandro Musolino and German neo-Nazi journalist Manuel Ochsenreiter, who moonlights as Kremlin propaganda channel RT’s German “expert” on the Middle East. But this time there was one surprising name in the bunch: Emmanuel Leroy.

Leroy was billed as representing the French charity, Urgence d’Enfants Ukraine (UEU), led by Alain Fragny, a former member of the extreme-right Bloc Identitaire. UEU is a suspicious organization that promotes pro-Russian and pro-separatist propaganda on its websites and is rather opaque with regards to its structure and operations. Leroy was also named by the official site of the DNR leadership as one of the initiators of the forum back in March this year.

But this infamously reclusive figure on France’s far-right is a far more interesting and important figure than any of the other political outliers to have participated in pro-separatist events.

Leroy is a former member of GRECE (Groupement de recherche et d’études pour la civilisation européenne, or the Research and Study Group for European Civilization), an extreme, ethno-nationalist think tank, formed in 1968 and headed by Alain de Benoist, whose name appeared in a leaked list of potentially sympathetic contacts purportedly drafted by the Russian ultra-nationalist, Aleksandr Dugin. GRECE promotes ethnic nationalism as a bulwark against race-mixing, placing great emphasis on pre-Christian Nordic culture, which left the group at odds with the Catholic mainstream of the Front National, France’s increasingly popular far-right party, which last year won two seats in the French senate. [Continue reading…]

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Marine Le Pen and the French far right are ready to seize the moment

Jonathan Laurence writes: For the first seven hours after the attack on the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, the National Front, France’s far right political party, kept an old feature about the influx of Roma and “gypsies” into French cities on its website. Then, shortly after noon, Marine Le Pen, the leader of the increasingly popular party with the slogan “The French Come First,” appeared in front of three French flags and hammered out her demands—and a selfless offer.

It is time for “frank and clear responses” against “inaction and denial,” she declared. In other words: The country’s two main political parties have failed to stem the Islamist tide, and you the voters now have all the evidence you need that France requires new leadership. “I intend to assume this vital responsibility so France can defend itself in the war that has been declared upon her,” she continued.

Populist parties in Europe have long done a fine trade based on the cultural and religious differences of Muslim citizens. That has been particularly true in recent years as efforts to integrate Muslims has become mired with controversy over headscarves, halal food, and the construction of mosques. The National Front, like other populist parties in neighboring countries, has emphasized the link between the cultural accommodation of local Muslims and recent political instability in Egypt, Libya, and Mali.

Mainstream French parties have tried to fend off the National Front’s advance ever since it unexpectedly made it to the final round of presidential elections in 2002. Last May, its nationalist, xenophobic message helped the party capture 25 percent of the vote in the European Union parliament elections. After Wednesday’s tragic attack, the party’s relevance can no longer be doubted. [Continue reading…]

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The root cause of extremism among British Muslims is alienation

Afua Hirsch writes: Britain has a problem with terrorism. Nothing focuses the mind more than the image of an apparently British man addressing the world in high definition as he brutally beheads a fellow Brit. But while the numbers of violent extremists are, by all accounts, relatively small, the issues underlying their reasons for turning towards terrorism are widespread.

I’ve been talking to young Muslims for a documentary on the root causes of extremism, and it’s clear there are a series of common complaints. Primarily, even though David Cameron may have said the killers of David Haines “are not Muslims, they are monsters”, young Muslims still have a profound and consistent sense of being demonised by society, and as creating a source of fear.

Further, many people still fail to distinguish between the different motivations for Brits travelling to the Middle East. It struck me how many young Muslims want to travel to Syria to help with the desperate humanitarian situation, or to join rebels trying to bring down President Assad – a goal that until recently was in line with Britain’s own foreign policy. However, the people I spoke to fully expected to be welcomed back to the UK by being arrested, slapped with a TPim and stripped of their passport.

For a passionate teenager, watching the suffering in Syria and believing that they are barred from contributing because of double standards driven by Islamophobia can create extreme feelings of alienation. And for those who are converted to extremism, there are usually other factors: contact with a seductive and effective hate preacher, indifference towards or a desire for violence, a sense of purposelessness – in some cases the same factors that attract young people to criminal gangs.

For a generation of non-Arabic speaking Muslims for whom the complexities of their faith can be lost in translation, recruiters from groups such as Islamic State (Isis) can play on this vulnerability. [Continue reading…]

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The most (and least) culturally diverse countries in the world

Pew Research Center: Looking for a real multicultural experience? Head to Chad in north-central Africa where 8.6 million residents belong to more than 100 ethnic groups or to Togo, home to 37 tribal groups that speak one of 39 languages and share little in the way of a common culture or history.

But if you find a kaleidoscope of cultures distracting, then consider a visit to Argentina, Haiti or the isolated Comoros islands off the southeast coast of Africa. They rank among the least culturally diverse countries in the world.

This multicultural map of the world is based on an analysis of data reported in a new study of cultural diversity and economic development by researcher Erkan Gören of the University of Oldenberg in Germany.

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Anti-intellectualism is taking over the U.S.

Patricia Williams writes: Recently, I found out that my work is mentioned in a book that has been banned, in effect, from the schools in Tucson, Arizona. The anti-ethnic studies law passed by the state prohibits teachings that “promote the overthrow of the United States government,” “promote resentment toward a race or class of people,” “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” and/or “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” I invite you to read the book in question, titled Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, so that you can decide for yourselves whether it qualifies.

In fact, I invite you to take on as your summer reading the astonishingly lengthy list of books that have been removed from the Tucson public school system as part of this wholesale elimination of the Mexican-American studies curriculum. The authors and editors include Isabel Allende, Junot Díaz, Jonathan Kozol, Rudolfo Anaya, bell hooks, Sandra Cisneros, James Baldwin, Howard Zinn, Rodolfo Acuña, Ronald Takaki, Jerome Skolnick and Gloria Anzaldúa. Even Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience and Shakespeare’s The Tempest received the hatchet.

Trying to explain what was offensive enough to warrant killing the entire curriculum and firing its director, Tucson school board member Michael Hicks stated rather proudly that he was not actually familiar with the curriculum. “I chose not to go to any of their classes,” he told Al Madrigal on The Daily Show. “Why even go?” In the same interview, he referred to Rosa Parks as “Rosa Clark.”

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Video: Is harmful rhetoric on the rise in Europe?

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Europeans against multiculturalism

At Boston Review, John R. Bowen writes:

One of the many signs of the rightward creep of Western European politics is the recent unison of voices denouncing multiculturalism. German Chancellor Angela Merkel led off last October by claiming that multiculturalism “has failed and failed utterly.” She was echoed in February by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron. All three were late to the game, though: for years, the Dutch far right has been bashing supposedly multicultural policies.

Despite the shared rhetoric, it is difficult to discern a common target for these criticisms. Cameron aimed at an overly tolerant attitude toward extremist Islam, Merkel at the slow pace of Turkish integration, and Sarkozy at Muslims who pray in the street.

But while it is hard to know what exactly the politicians of Europe mean when they talk about multiculturalism, one thing we do know is that the issues they raise—real or imagined—have complex historical roots that have little to do with ideologies of cultural difference. Blaming multiculturalism may be politically useful because of its populist appeal, but it is also politically dangerous because it attacks “an enemy within”: Islam and Muslims. Moreover, it misreads history. An intellectual corrective may help to diminish its malign impact.

Political criticisms of multiculturalism confuse three objects. One is the changing cultural and religious landscape of Europe. Postwar France and Britain encouraged immigration of willing workers from former colonies; Germany drew on its longstanding ties with Turkey for the same purpose; somewhat later, new African and Asian immigrants, many of them Muslims, traveled throughout Western Europe to seek jobs or political refuge. As a result, one sees mosques where there once were only churches and hears Arabic and Turkish where once there were only dialects of German, Dutch, or Italian. The first object then is the social fact of cultural and religious diversity, of multicultural and multi-religious everyday life: the emergence in Western Europe of the kind of social diversity that has long been a matter of pride in the United States.

The second object—suggested by Cameron’s phrase “state multiculturalism”—concerns the policies each of these countries have used to handle new residents. By the 1970s, Western European governments realized that the new workers and their families were there to stay, so the host countries tried out a number of strategies to integrate the immigrants into the host society. Policymakers all realized that they would need to find what later came to be called “reasonable accommodations” with the needs of the new communities: for mosques and schools, job training, instruction in the host-country language. These were pragmatic efforts; they did not aim at assimilation, nor did they aim to preserve spatial or cultural separation. Some of these policies eventually were termed “multicultural” because they involved recognizing ethnic community structures or allowing the use of Arabic or Turkish in schools. But these measures were all designed to encourage integration: to bring new groups in while acknowledging the obvious facts of linguistic, social, cultural, and religious difference.

The third object that multiculturalism’s critics confuse is a set of normative theories of multiculturalism, each of which attempts to mark out a way to take account of cultural and religious diversity from a particular philosophical point of view. Although ideas of multiculturalism do shape public debates in Britain (as they do in North America), they do so much less in continental Europe, and even in Britain it would be difficult to find direct policy effects of these normative theories.

Politicians err when they claim that normative ideas of multiculturalism shape the social fact of cultural and religious diversity: such diversity would be present with or without a theory to cope with it. Nor are state policies shaped by those ideas, which tend to be recent in origin. Quite to the contrary, each European country has followed well-traveled pathways for dealing with diversity. Methods designed to accommodate sub-national religious blocs are now being adapted and applied to Muslim immigrants. Far from newfangled, misguided policies of multiculturalism, these distinct strategies represent the continuation of long-standing, nation-specific ways of recognizing and managing diversity.

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