Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Saturday, August 25, 2007

August 25, 2007

Israel only state to be singled out

Henry Srebrnik, The Calgary Herald

Back in the 1970s, China, then a Maoist state, trumpeted a revolutionary slogan, "Unite the Many, Defeat the Few."

Since at that time they were also vehement supporters of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which was committed to the destruction of Israel, I joked that what they were really saying was, "Unite the Many, Defeat the Jews."

China's attitude towards Israel today is much more nuanced. However, there is now an increasing tendency, in some western academic and intellectual circles, to question Israel's very right to exist.

For these critics, the right of national self-determination for Jews in a state of their own is morally reprehensible, its very foundation a crime, an "original sin."

In 2003, New York University history professor Tony Judt wrote an article for the influential New York Review of Books entitled "Israel: The Alternative," in which he suggested that Israel was an anachronism that had historically "arrived too late."

Judt defined Israel as "a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded."

Wrote Judt: "To convert Israel from a Jewish state to a binational one would not be easy, though not quite as impossible as it sounds: the process has already begun de facto. But it would cause far less disruption to most Jews and Arabs than its religious and nationalist foes will claim."

The British academic Jacqueline Rose, a professor of English at Queen Mary College, University of London, considers the Zionist movement of national liberation a betrayal of Jewish history and the Jewish heritage.

"I have never understood why the historic, biblical claim of the Jewish people, even when seared by the horror of the Holocaust, should usurp the rights of the Arabs who had lived there for hundreds of years," she wrote in an article in The Observer in 2002.

In her book, The Question of Zion, published in 2005, she declared that the formation of Israel in 1948 had not only brought "injustice" to the Palestinians, but put at risk the Jewish nation's own "safety and sanity." Israel, she decided, was "bad for the Jewish people" as well as its neighbours.

Rose concluded that only a renunciation of Zionism could alleviate the "terrible consequences" that had flowed from the creation of a state for the Jews.

Michael Neumann, a professor of philosophy at Trent University in Peterborough, is the author of The Case Against Israel, released in 2006. Zionism was the attempt to establish exclusive Jewish sovereignty over Palestine and therefore "Israel is the illegitimate child of ethnic nationalism," he asserted.

For him, not even the sufferings of Jews in the Nazi era could serve to justify it.

An even harsher tone was provided by Joel Kovel, a professor of social studies at Bard College, Annandale, N.Y. His book, Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine, published this year, sees nationalism as evil, and Zionism as a particularly bad kind of nationalism. Israel is, for him, a "monstrous venture" of "state-structured racism."

Kovel argues that the inner contradictions of Zionism have led Israel down a path fully as wicked as that of apartheid South Africa and deserving of the same resolution.

Only a single-state secular democracy can provide the justice essential to healing the wounds of the Middle East.

These are four examples of academics, in the United States, Britain and Canada, who question the right of Israel to exist and prefer a "one-state solution"-- in other words, a Palestine that is "a state of all its citizens," Arabs, Jews and others. There are many others, and the list is growing.

Rarely, however, do Israel's detractors also demand that the many states that are officially, not merely demographically, Buddhist, Christian and Islamic also become "states of all their citizens."

After all, if Jews have no right to a state, then why do some 100 other ethnic groups have proprietary rights to theirs? Their countries too are the products of conquest at some stage in their formation, and they also include minority groups.

And there are many others, including Chechens, Kosovar Albanians, Tibetans and Palestinians themselves, demanding their own national independence.

Are they also not "privileged" within their own countries? Are not their symbols and laws reflective of their religious and cultural systems, past and present?

Do their flags not display crosses and crescents? Even if the critics of Israel have a point, to fixate on just one country is clearly a case of a double standard.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

August 16, 2007

Does Israel Have a Right to Exist?

Henry Srebrnik, [Toronto] Jewish Tribune

The future of the state of Israel is politically and ideologically now more uncertain than at any time since its inception in 1948.

I speak not of the threat of attack from Iran, or the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, but rather of the increasing tendency, in some western academic and intellectual circles, to question Israel’s very right to exist.

For these critics, the right of national self-determination for Jews in a state of their own is morally reprehensible, its very foundation a crime, an “original sin.”

They demand that this illegitimate state be dismantled, or at the very least “de-Judaized,” in terms of its laws and symbols, in order for it to become “a state of all its citizens” -- by which they refer to the 1.5 million people, about 20 per cent of Israel’s population, who are Arabs and Druze.

In fact, this Arab population has full citizenship, with legal protections and political rights: currently, 12 of the 120 members of the Israeli Knesset (parliament) are Israeli Arabs, most representing Arab political parties. One of Israel’s Supreme Court judges is an Israeli Arab.

But this is not good enough for Israel’s opponents. They want to eliminate the “Zionist” (read: Jewish) nature of the state altogether.

One bone of contention is Israel’s “Law of Return,” which allows speedy immigration to the country by Jews, but not by others. (Israel was founded, after all, in order to be a Jewish state.) But rarely do these detractors of the state acknowledge that many other countries have similar policies.

Germany, for instance, allows ethnic Germans from elsewhere, even if they have no family connection with the country, to “return” to Germany.

But others do not have a similar right. Turks from Turkey cannot simply come to Germany under such arrangements, even if they have relatives among the large population of ethnic Turks in the country.

An Israel that became a “state of all its citizens” in terms of its public face would simply revert to being pre-1948 Palestine. The national flag and anthem, both Jewish, would need replacement. Extra-national bodies such as the Jewish Agency would disappear. The country would no longer be Jewish, so why would Jews have bothered creating it at all?

As well, in a non-Jewish Israel (or, to give it its proper name, Palestine), Jews would quickly become a minority, since we can assume that former Arab Palestinian refugees and their descendants would be allowed back under their own “law of return.” They would quickly assume the reins of power, and Jews would live under their governance.

In that case, Jews might just as well live in California or South Africa; Los Angeles or Capetown are just as pleasant as Tel Aviv. And they are in better neighborhoods!

Do Israel’s detractors also demand that the many states that are officially, not merely demographically, Islamic – Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and many more – also become “states of all their citizens?” Not that I’ve noticed.

Of course most of those countries have very few or no non-Muslim citizens, not even second class ones, since, unlike in Israel, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Jewish minorities are, to put it mildly, made to feel less than welcome.

If there are Jews who can only conceive of Israel as a state in which they are inherently superior, legally and socially, they have only themselves to blame if people regard that kind of Israel as a state that has no right to exist in its current form, warns one writer.

Really? No right to exist? But why then do the Albanians, the Bulgarians, the Croats, the Czechs, the Finns, the Greeks, the Latvians, the Japanese, the Swedes, the Ukrainians, the Vietnamese, and some 100 other ethnic groups have proprietary rights to their own states? And there are many others, including Chechens, Kosovar Albanians, Tibetans, and Palestinians themselves, demanding their own national independence.

Are they also not “privileged” within their own countries? Are not their symbols and laws reflective of their religious and cultural systems, past and present? Do their flags not display crosses and crescents?

Finally, what about all the artificial countries, the relics of colonialism – the Congos and Nigerias and Sudans? I see few people calling for the elimination of these polities.

Given the amount of ink spilled in attacks on Israel, a recently landed Martian might assume this nation to be the hub of a huge empire, comparable to some of the giants of the past, states that ruled over hundreds of millions of subjects.

The visitor might think Israel comparable to ancient Rome; 16th century Spain; the Ottoman and Mughal empires; Napoleonic France; the Victorian British Empire, with its worldwide reach; the Chinese empires, imperial and Communist; and for that matter the old Soviet Union, that “prison house of nationalities,” together with its east European satellites states.

But Israel is in fact tiny: fewer than seven million people in an area (pre-1967) of 22,072 square kilometres, or 8,522 square miles. This is not even twice the size, and with about half the population, of Greater Los Angeles!

The occupied West Bank (and Gaza) add another 6,335 square kilometres (2,446 square miles), with a population of 3.8 million.

And Israel is surrounded by states, far larger than itself, which have been less than pleased to see it come into existence. Some empire.

So how to account for the fixation on, and obsession with, this little Jewish country? I leave it to the readers’ imaginations – or better yet, their reading of history. I think we know the answer.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

August 4, 2007

A strong dollar, and short memory

Henry Srebrnik, The Calgary Herald

Canada has to be the country with the shortest collective memory in the world. As we know, the loonie is now worth about 95 cents US – fuelled, to a large extent, by the economic boom in Alberta. Some economists think it may even reach parity with the American dollar soon. Five years ago, it hovered at around 65 cents US.

Statistics Canada now says the surging currency is giving consumers purchasing power far greater than simple economic growth figures suggest.

Between 2002 and 2005, Canada’s economic output expanded by 8.3 per cent in real terms. But the purchasing power of the country's earnings increased by 13.4 per cent. Why? Because while the volume of exports rose, the price paid for those exports rose even more.

John Baldwin, director of microeconomic analysis at Statscan, explained that the large increase in the value of the Canadian dollar “is benefitting everyone across Canada.” And it has also led, he added, to an employment boom that has pushed Canada's jobless rate down to lows not seen since the 1960s.

Now, here’s my point: for years, under the Jean Chretien/Paul Martin regime, we were constantly being told that our low dollar was good for Canada. It allowed us to export cheaply, despite the fact that, as a corollary, our imported goods were expensive and Canadians had little purchasing power when abroad.

I remember being in Montana in July 2001 and seeing almost no Canadian license plates as soon as we crossed into the state from Alberta. We were the “east Germans” of North America, economically locked in behind our borders.

Now we can actually travel to the U.S. or Europe without going bankrupt. And retirees can again afford to buy sunbelt condos in places like Arizona and Florida.

Cross-border shopping is again, as it was in the early 1990s, all the rage. People are even buying cars in the U.S. and shipping them home. After all, such items typically cost a good 30 percent more in Canada – but if our loonie is worth close to a greenback, clearly they are cheaper in border towns anywhere between Bellingham and Buffalo.

Of course, since prices, like water, seek their own level, this will have the effect of eventually lowering the cost of goods in Canada – and so giving all of us more purchasing power.

But it turns out that the Chretien trade-off – a cheap currency that benefitted our exporters at the expense of higher priced goods at home – wasn’t even necessary. According to economist Stephen Poloz of Export Development Canada, the belief that a strong dollar hurts exporters is a myth. He asserted last year that Canadian exports actually declined during that period.

So why don’t we “call” the Liberals on this? Clearly they all flunked Economics 101 when at university. Does being our “natural governing party” mean never having to say you’re sorry – or wrong?

Here’s a suggestion: the next time our two former prime ministers visit the U.S., they should ask the bank to give them 65 cents US for every one of their loonies.

Friday, August 03, 2007

August 3, 2007

Barack Obama: Trailblazer for Black Americans

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

There are many reasons why it would be nice to see the junior senator from Illinois in the United States Senate, Barack Hussein Obama, become the Democratic Party’s nominee for the U.S. presidency in 2008 and go on to win the general election.

But here’s a particularly good one for those of us here in Canada tired of the constant America-bashing we have to put up with from the liberal and left wing of our political spectrum:

Not only is Obama black, he is the son of an African Muslim from Kenya who came to the United States as a student, and he has a decidedly non-Anglo-Saxon name. (His mother is a white American from Kansas.)

Yet he is being taken more seriously than any previous black candidates, including Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

Our Canadian leftists harp incessantly about American racism and xenophobia. But with all of our vaunted multicultural policies, I haven’t noticed anyone like Obama leading any of our political parties.

Born in Honolulu, with its culturally heterogeneous mix of indigenous Hawaiians, other Pacific Islanders, Asians, and whites, for much of his youth Obama lived outside the U.S.

His parents divorced when he was a child and his father, a member of Kenya’s second-largest ethnic group, the Luo, returned to Kenya and remarried. Obama has a number of half-siblings there.

Obama’s mother later married an Indonesian student and the family moved to the world’s largest Muslim country, where Obama attended school in Jakarta for four years. Obama is today a member of the United Church of Christ.

Barack Obama represents the new diversity among black Americans, who now number about 37 million people.

Traditionally, African-American identity was built on an ancestral connection to slavery. American blacks were, by definition, people whose ancestors had arrived in America prior to the abolition of the slave trade in the nineteenth century.

They had lost their African cultures and languages – most native-born blacks don’t know their specific ethnic heritage. They were, in that sense, despite the legacy of slavery, racism and segregation, quintessential Americans.

After all, given racist American immigration laws, their numbers were not augmented by new waves of immigration from Africa. Until the twentieth century, most lived in rural areas of the old slave states of the U.S. South. They were a very homogeneous group.

In 1965, however, the U.S. liberalized its immigration laws, and removed quotas based on national origin. The Immigration and Naturalization Act now allowed more non-Europeans to enter the country and this has led to profound demographic changes in America.

In the past 30 years, one million people have come from Africa to the United States, from countries as different as Ghana and Nigeria, Senegal and Somalia.

Another 1.5 million blacks claim Caribbean ancestry; they have arrived from Haiti, Jamaica, and many other islands in the West Indies.

Nearly 25 percent of the growth in the black population between 1990 and 2000 was due to immigration and this pattern is accelerating. There is now a large African and Afro-Caribbean diaspora population in the United States.

All these new black immigrants have brought their own cultures with them, and they have remained distinct from the native African-American population. Many are Muslims, whereas most of the historic black community in the U.S. has been devoutly Protestant.

Like other recent newcomers, they settle in the large cities, mainly in the north and west. Many have become successful entrepreneurs and their children have attained high educational levels.

A disproportionate percentage of black students at elite universities are African or the children of African immigrants. (Obama’s father obtained a PhD from Harvard University and Obama attended Harvard Law School.)

Some African-Americans complain that Obama is “not black enough” because of his heritage. But many others realize that the old criteria by which they identify themselves don’t fit this new reality, which Barack Obama personifies.