Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Letter to THE Editor

“But you know – everyone knows – that the army is everywhere in Israeli society.”“I know no such thing. I went out into the Israeli street and did not see what you are describing. And if it were the case, so what?”
It would be fair to ask me why I have this obsession with the newspaper, Haaretz, and especially with its weekly magazine: is it masochism on my part to read it, a need to know what the fringe-left is thinking, or simply morbid curiosity – the kind that impels people to tie up traffic for miles to get a glance at a multi-car pileup on the side of a highway. With all the good stuff I hardly have time to read, why did I take the time to go through very carefully an article entitled “Battle Dress” which appeared on Feb. 15, and then take even more time to respond with a Letter to the Editor?
Let me at least explain what I am talking about. Some months ago – I am not sure when because I wasn’t paying attention at the time, and because the article does not say – an enormous controversy arose here in The Land. A twenty-eight year old student, Eyal Cohen, who was then doing his miluim (army reserve duty), left his army base and went to attend his class in filmmaking. It was alleged that the teacher, a noted director of documentary films, Nizar Hassan, ejected the student from class because he was still in his army uniform. The Student Union became involved and issued a press release demanding “justice.” (This was apparently not an isolated situation: the article notes the activity of another fringe-leftist, Dr. Shlomit Tamari who “told a Bedouin student to remove her head-covering because it is an element of suppression…….’I told the student that I hadn’t intended to insult her,’ Tamari says. I told the college that I have academic freedom, and I can talk about that subject and I am continuing to do so.’”) The response from Israeli society was as you might expect: senior IDF officers became involved, and Hassan was denounced in the Knesset. Ultimately, when Hassan refused to apologize, a process was initiated to terminate his employment.
As you might expect from LeftLand, the article “Battle Dress” begins as a defense of Nizar Hassan, but – and this is why defense lawyers try not to put their clients on the witness stand – in the process, the filmmaker manages to destroy his own credibility. He categorically denies ejecting the student from his class. Instead he simply told him “I am absolutely unwilling to have people bearing arms and in uniform – whether of the police, of Fatah or of Hamas – come into my class,” in effect, creating an atmosphere of non-tolerance for this individual student-soldier as well as for the army in which he serves. When he was asked, “You made the decision to work in an Israeli academic institution -- you know the rules of the game.” “No.” “Can you lay down rules in the classroom even on a nonacademic matter?” “First of all, I have every right to argue with every rule and fight for rules that are appropriate for me.” And, of course, he denies “that the army is everywhere in Israeli society.” But what I love most of all is the false bravado often employed by people who are teetering on the brink: “I will not apologize. I prefer to beg in the streets of Nazareth and eat crumbs.” As if adding another family to the poverty roles would solve anything, or that a filmmaker with his credentials – especially now that he would be considered a “martyr” – would ever have to beg for bread.
Lest anyone misinterpret Hassan’s position that students should “not bring the war into my class,” as one of overzealous naiveté, consider the following sequence of events: this article appeared on Friday, Feb. 15. Two days later, I wrote my letter to the Editor, because this fake issue of “academic freedom” is one of my pet peeves (and thank G-d, while we had to pay $200 to transport our cat Mimi on the Nefesh B’Nefesh flight, I was not charged anything at all for bringing along all my pet peeves). That Wednesday night, we received a call from Haaretz that they were planning to print my letter. It did not appear that Friday; in its place was a different letter with a point of view that, I must admit, I would never have thought of. Nizar Hassan was obviously insecure as the only Arab member of faculty; the solution was to apologize to him and hire more Arab professors. My letter did finally appear in Haaretz magazine the Friday after that, Feb. 29. However, by that time, events of the day had overtaken this war of words. (It is often the fate of words to be overwhelmed by reality.)
Up to this point, I have deliberately omitted one significant piece of information. You see, the events we are discussing took place in Sapir College in Sderot. And as many of you are aware, during the week in question, kassam rockets launched by Hamas from Gaza landed on that college campus, killing a forty-seven year old student, and injuring many others. One of the newspapers had a photograph of a female Arab student with most of her face covered, a victim of shock, being carted off on a stretcher. My first reaction was to wonder if she was one of the students insulted by Shlomit Tamari. (By the way, I get absolutely no pleasure in seeing Arabs victimized because their own leaders choose death over life.) A number of students coherent enough to be interviewed by the media indicated that they knew it was only a matter of time before the campus was struck. So much for the notion of keeping the war away from the classroom.
An interesting bit of information: a recent poll, for whose accuracy I cannot vouch, indicated that about two thirds of Israelis favored negotiating with Hamas for a cease-fire. Now I have no idea what exact question was asked, or how it was asked. And, as a new immigrant, I do not pretend to be an expert on what your random Israeli – with whom I can barely communicate – is thinking. But I’m guessing the following: this is simply another vote of no-confidence in the current government, a belief that Olmert and company will continue to be unwilling or unable to prevent the terrorists from victimizing our people in and around Sderot. And it also indicates that your man on the street assumes that Olmert and his rag-tag crew will remain in power – even though virtually nobody in Israel who does not sit in the Knesset, or work for somebody sitting in the Knesset, wants this government to survive.
The government continues to survive because the religious Sephardic party, Shas, refuses to quit. I am somewhat reluctant to criticize this group; its spiritual leader, Ovadiah Yoself is a rabbi revered by many here and rightly acclaimed as a Torah scholar. However, their conditions for remaining in the government seem as shifting as the sand in the dunes that surround my home here in Maale Adumim. It has something to do with not negotiating with Abbas on dividing up Jerusalem. What is strange is that they are probably the only people in the country who do not believe that these negotiations are already taking place.
The plain truth is that if you asked a broad sampling of people here – young secularists sitting in a coffee bar in Tel Aviv on a Saturday morning, cab drivers waiting for your arrival at Ben-Gurion airport, religious moshavniks in the Galil – why Shas remains in the coalition, you would probably get variations on the same harsh and devastating answer: blackmail. That Shas is simply using its position as power maker (we can bring down the government if you don’t do what we want) to get its people into key positions (like chief rabbi of Jerusalem), or to get support for legislation that ordinarily wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in you-know-where of passing.
While people in Sderot, and now in Ashkelon, are living in fear of rockets, the Shas delegation in the Knesset was rounding up support for a bill that would require Bezeq – the phone company and provider of our internet connection – to provide every user with a filter that would block out violence and pornography coming over the internet; if you didn’t want it, you would have to opt out on your own.
Now, I am, in general, opposed to pornography and violence, and in favor of devices that keep them away from children and from the rest of us. In fact, I am surprised that there aren’t such devices commonly available for television, which could certainly use some supervision. But there are plenty of effective filtering devises for the internet already on the market, with more on the way. My philosophy is that it’s a bad idea to force people to do what they would probably do on their own – if they thought it was their idea. I am also a political conservative from America who believes that he can do a better job of running his life than the government can. If this bill were to pass – unlikely, but possible – the Knesset member in charge of this project (and who would decide the definition of pornography) could easily become someone who believes that men should never see any pictures of fully-dressed women, and that men and women should walk on opposite sides of the street.
Meanwhile, life goes on in Sderot and environs, and the folks around the world are taking umbrage at even our half-hearted attempts at self defense. What I have decided to do – now that I have caught the attention of the editor of Haaretz magazine, and in my never ending effort to make the world a better place to live – is write a letter to THE Editor, The Ultimate Decision Maker, The One to Whom we address our supplications and requests. With your permission, I will share it with you:
Dear Ultimate Decider of My Fate; I know that You have a lot to accomplish, so I will keep this missive as brief as possible. It seems to me that You are forced to remind us every once in a while who is in charge – You – and who is not in charge – Us. Even as someone who just recently arrived in The Land You promised us thousands of years ago, and to which You are graciously allowing us to return, some things are fairly obvious, and one of them is that You are in the “I’m reminding you” mode. Israel has never been stronger, economically, technologically, and, yes, even spiritually. Yet there is an obvious inverse relation between the strength of the nation and the weakness of resolve and narrowness of spirit of our leaders – even some of those who claim to represent You. And the more numerous we become, the more determined our enemies are to destroy us. (Didn’t we play this scene out before?) So what are we left with? Your eternal mercy and our own resolve to live in The Land. May I humbly offer up the follow requests for Your consideration: Confound our enemies, give our leaders a little backbone once in a while, and remind our extended family still living in Exile – oblivious to the physical dangers some of them face and the real threat of decimation by assimilation that all of them face – that You would like them to come Home. And allow us to go from strength to strength.
Sincerely,Fred CasdenHamitzadim 33Maale Adumim, 98420Israel

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