Sunday, August 1, 2010

Tea Party for Schmucks

In the new movie Dinner for Schmucks, a financial analyst looking to move up in his firm is invited to take part in a cruel game, where an assortment of losers and lunatics are brought to a dinner designed to set them up for mockery. The analyst finds his useful idiot in the form of a doofy amateur taxidermist, whom he bonds with via a zany series of ensuing antics. In the feel-good ending, the analyst confesses that it was he who was acting like the true 'schmuck' all along. One is reminded here of the unusual game being played between Israel (and it's American supporters) and those wacky Christian Tea Party zealots. Their budding bromance is still in it's beginning stages, though it seems likely that this unlikely pairing also has two true 'schmucks'. Antics will surely ensue.

This past week, the Israel advocacy (formerly civil rights) organization the Anti-Defamation League, which had previously warned about the dangerous white supremacist potential of the Tea Party, has now made common cause with them over objections to the proposed Islamic community center to be built in downtown Manhattan (aka 'the ground zero mosque'). Their Islamophobia justifies itself with claims of protecting friends and families of 9/11 victims from "unnecessary pain" caused by seeing Muslims, warning the Muslims that their existence in the financial district will be "counterproductive to the healing process". Apparently, the proper way to heal a wound from 9 years ago is to continuously pick at the racist scab that has hardened over it. Some Muslim kids playing basketball at their community center causes some sort of irrational "pain" to racists, so the kids should obviously be the one's barred from the neighborhood. Perhaps the ADL doesn't realize that Muslim human beings feel pain too (such as when they're discriminated against), taking a stance akin to the one pescatarians have towards fish.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The 18 Families: Stratification in Israel

Critics of Israel's violent behavior have tended to focus on questions of ideology: to what extent is the occupation an example of traditional colonialism? Does Israeli apartheid find its roots in Zionism? How does the (historical, and ongoing) ethnic cleansing of Palestine inform the national consciousness?

These questions are certainly worth exploring, yet they often dominate the discussion at the expense of indicators which might be equally telling: who's making money, and how.

Israel is a deeply divided country. A recent report  presented to the Israeli cabinet as the country files for membership in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found that the nation would be the most "unequal and poor" in the group. One-fifth of the population lives below the poverty line and only half the nation earns wages "suitable for a developed country." 

Eighteen families now control fully 60% of the equity value of all Israeli companies. Between 2005 and 2007, Israel produced more millionaires per capita than any other country. According to a recent article in the Jewish Standard
Top managers can earn as much as $523,000 a month, compared to the $1,440 monthly income earned by the average Israeli, according to the Adva Institute. “Israel now worships the golden calf of the free market: privatization and sink-or-swim competition,” Yossi Melman, a senior writer for Israel’s daily Haaretz, wrote in a blog for the Washington Post.
The breakdown also has a racial/ethnic dimension. In 2004, the Adva Center released a report which found that Ashkenazi Jews per capita made 136% of Israel's national average salary, while Arab-Israelis only brought in 75%. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Birthright Brooklyn

Here's a classic comic by yours truly from 2007, posted in dedication to BrooklynVegan, JellyNYC, and Chuck "the Hipster Senator" Schumer. Expect more new and classic comics to be posted soon. Yes, I draw comics too. I contain multitudes.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In Honor of 'The Twelve Spies': Speaking Out Against Atrocity on Tisha B'av

Yesterday marked Tisha B'av, a Jewish holiday remembering some of the very bad things that happened to the Jews on this day throughout history, the original set being known as 'the five calamities': the destruction of the first temple by the Babylonians, the destruction of the second temple by the Romans (supposedly creating the Jewish diaspora), the Roman crushing of the Bar Kokhba revolt, desecration of the temple grounds following the Roman siege of Jerusalem, and the original calamity, the slander of 'the twelve spies' against the land of Israel and their subsequent punishment by God. The last guys were probably some of the first people ever referred to as 'self-hating Jews'. More on them later.

Some of the other calamities to befall the Jews on this tragic day have been the Pope's declaration of the first crusade, expulsion from England in 1290, expulsion from Span in 1492, start of World War I, and the transfer from the Warsaw ghetto to Treblinka. On Tisha B'av in 2010, or the 9th of Av, 5770 on the Jewish calender, calamities continue, although this time around some of them take the form of having to bear the ethical, spiritual burden of the oppressor. An Israeli tank attack on Gaza which killed one supposed militant also left ten wounded, two of them children (a fact buried in many news stories). Israeli Border Police in the Al Baqa'a valley near Hebron dismantled a cistern and irrigation pipes used to grow vegetables, while the farmers who came to protest were cleared away by ear drum shattering sound grenades. In Jaffa, settler extremists attempted to burn down the historic Hassan Bek mosque; like the other times when settler's have attacked this mosque, no arrests have been made. On the eve of the holiday, the IDF demolished 55 homes in the West Bank village of Farasiya having declared it a military area, while the Israeli courts sentenced an Arab man to prison for raping a Jewish woman based on the fact that he had led her to believe he was a Jew (both admit the sex itself was consensual). Meanwhile, it was revealed that even more Israeli courts would be built on top of to-be-demolished sections of historical Maman Allah cemetery, which has seen sections desecrated previously to make way for hotels, bars, and parking lots.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Birthright by Choice, Meshuggeneh Christians, and Bar Mitzvahs for Palestinians

This past week, America's Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Jewish establishment leaders united to speak out against a controversial new bill that they claim could prove to be devastating in it's effect of alienating the Jewish 'diaspora' from the Israeli state. Rabbis have made dramatic sermons about the bill, using strong words like "unjust", "tragic", and "catastrophe" to emphasize the true gravity of the situation. They've even pressed some US senators to make the bold move of addressing these concerns to the Israeli government. Is this finally marking the emergence of a popular movement by American Jews to remove themselves from complicity in Israel's crimes against the Palestinians? Has the brief web life of this blog already served to mobilize the masses to say 'ya basta' to Israeli chutzpah?

Before I start getting delusions of grandeur, or before anyone starts thinking the mainstream Jewish establishment has that kind of ethical backbone, I should specify that the divisive new bill has nothing to do with war crimes, land theft, or Palestinians, but rather Jewish conversion protocol. Already, the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate oversees all official conversions within Israel, but the new bill would further strengthen their control, potentially effecting the legitimacy of conversions done outside of Israel and hence the ability for converts to immigrate there via the Law of Return. Certainly, this gesture is hurtful and insulting to the diversity of Jewish religious practices, some of which offer a progressive alternative to Orthodox's traditional misogyny and homophobia. It also means on a practical level that Johnny from Cleveland, who converted because he really liked Defiance, read the wikipedia entry on Kabbalah, and wants to marry Sheila Schwartz, can't as easily move to Israel to claim Palestinian land as his 'birthright'.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Interruption as Intervention: Why I Fucked with Chuck

Yesterday, as I found myself deep in a sea of Williamsburg hipsters awaiting a "Pool Party" concert at East River State Park, a rather unexpected "special guest" was announced by an entirely too enthusiastic emcee for the artfully apathetic aesthetes who dared not display any sentiment beyond irony. I assumed maybe we'd be graced by some luminary of the scene (spending the last five years in Binghamton, NY prevents me from naming whom that might be). 

Imagine my surprise when he announced Senator Chuck Schumer. 

Now, I have a very visceral reaction to some politicians. I'd like to think it comes from the proud populist tradition of publicly shaming the scoundrels of State who rarely face even the most mild rebuke in their pampered existence, yet see fit to unleash misery on working people throughout the world. But maybe it's not so grand as all that. More likely, I was simply overcome by the need to rebuke this vulture.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Israel's LOLocaust

There's an old Jewish joke, recounted by Woody Allen in Annie Hall, about two old ladies vacationing in the Catskills. Eating dinner, one turns to the other and says, "Boy, the food here is terrible," to which the other replies, "Yes, and such small portions!" I think that essentially sums up my feelings on Israeli comedy. It's generally not funny, groaningly obvious, and often seriously racist towards Palestinians. At the same time, if some Israelis didn't take themselves so seriously, they would be too busy making viral videos to worry about fulfilling biblical prophecy.

Sadly, instead of inhabiting the transformative role comedy has the potential to play, much Israeli comedy right now seems to compliment, rather than scoff at, the injustices of perpetual occupation and apartheid. Take the IDF (please!). This past weekend, a group of soldiers uploaded a video to YouTube that they may be facing disciplinary reprisals for (the real farce is getting disciplined for making memes rather than, say, demolishing homes). In the video, a group of soldiers is patrolling in Hebron, guns drawn, the Muslim call to prayer playing in the background. Suddenly, the prayer is replaced with the Ke$ha song "Tick Tock", featuring lyrics such as "Don't stop, make it pop / DJ, blow my speakers up" (if only the 'blowing up' the IDF commits were merely audio, not visceral). The soldiers then proceed to engage in what the sharp analysts at Haaretz call a "Macarena-like dance", suggesting the soldiers are veterans of virtually any mid-to-late 90's bar mitzvah. It would be one thing if this was just another ill-conceived scene in the Disaster Movie franchise, but these are actual soldiers currently engaging in an illegal and immoral occupation, potentially provoking the besieged local Muslim population by drowning out their prayers with cheesy American electropop. Forgive me for not LOLing.