Letters to the Editor
Thursday 18 September @ 13:31:30
Just because you are Jewish doesn’t mean your can’t criticize Israel
First let me identify myself. I am an American-Jew, child of Russian-Jewish immigrants. Ours was a secular home, but my parents taught us Yiddish, the history of the Jewish people, the culture, the literature, and, most important, the striving for justice for all people throughout the millennia. My mother’s family has been a presence in Israel for almost 100 years, her brother having gone to Israel to build a bicultural state, Jewish and Palestinian.
I have been following the exchange of letters between Cheryl Lewis Fields, Polly Mann and Liza Burr and would like to add to this discussion with a few questions and facts.
I would like to know why Israelis feel fine criticizing their government, and they do, but American-Jews are considered “self-hating Jews” if they criticize the Israeli government.
Why can we American-Jews criticize our government, the British government, the French government, but not the Israeli government? The myth of Jews being monolithic in their support of Israel’s politics is just that—a myth—time to dispel it along with other myths.
As I write this letter, I have next to me a copy of the annual report for the year 2002 of “Hamokrd: Centre for the Defense of the Individual,” an Israeli human rights group dedicated to the defense of the Palestinian population in Israeli-occupied territories (4 Abu Obeidah St., Jerusalem 97200; tel. 02624438623555). Yes, Israel is an occupying power. The report states, “In the past year the statistical increase of new cases rose by 490 percent over the year 2001,” as well as the fact that “the 8,751 complaints (from Palestinians) received in 2002 is more than the organization handled in the previous six years altogether.” This hardly speaks well for Israel’s benevolence.
I also have beside me a copy of The Other Israel, the newsletter of the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (U.S. edition available from the Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, 224 Lake Drive, Kensington, CA 94708-1132). If you want to read some real criticism of the Israeli government, along with news of the peace movement and analysis of the political situation, read The Other Israel. All of the contributors are longtime citizens and members of Israeli peace groups.
I would also refer Cheryl to the Middle East Children’s Alliance, Berkeley, CA (tel. 510-548-0542). Barbara Lubin is the executive director. She has traveled extensively in the Middle East, bringing medication to Palestine, Iraq, etc. Barbara has been in Minneapolis a number of times on a speaking tour. The next time she comes, I hope Cheryl will take the time to come and hear her.
As for the charges of anti-Semitism within the peace movement here, let me refer Cheryl to an article in the May 5, 2003, issue of The Nation: “Anti-Semitism, Israel, and the Left.” Taking anecdotal remarks out of context is painting with a very, very broad brush, and certainly would not pass muster in an academic environment.
As a volunteer at WAMM for a number of years, one of my tasks was to clean out the archives. I went through, page by page, an enormous amount of material, including every newsletter since WAMM was formed. I challenge Cheryl or anyone else who may feel as she does to point out anything that was ever disseminated by WAMM that is anti-Semitic. I would truly appreciate seeing this material, as I would not keep silent about it and allow it to color my feelings toward the peace movement.
If some individual has made inappropriate remarks—racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, etc., this must be responded to immediately. We must all acknowledge that we are products of our environment, our learning, our media. Hopefully we learn as we live.
As to the quotation from an Israeli woman comparing Israelis to “good Germans,” which Cheryl found offensive, may I remind her that yes, there were good Germans who saved Jewish lives. Yes, there are good Germans and bad Germans, good Palestinians and bad Palestinians, good Jews and bad Jews, and good Israelis and bad Israelis.
Let us all learn to cooperate and live together in Peace with Justice.
Sindbad, a restaurant and “Arab Center” is in trouble
This is a plea to help a business in need! South Minneapolis’ unofficial “Arab Center” Sindbad—a place for groceries, food and good politics, is in danger of closing in the next month due to a lack of business. Owner Sami Rasouli thinks maybe it’s the economy, maybe it’s the competition, and perhaps some hesitancy to support this Iraqi owner who has been outspoken against the war and has been vocally pro-Arab throughout the years. For whatever reason, apparently, the customers are just not coming.
Personally, I find the potential closing of Sindbad’s a huge loss. When I first became involved with the Arab community, it was a place I could go and feel welcomed. It was a place we met and discussed art, politics, planned our activities and got the best Arabic bread anywhere in town. It was a place where I began to feel connected ... felt at home.
As we know, there is a lot of competition for Middle Eastern groceries/food in the Twin Cities, and the war in Iraq maybe hasn’t helped Sami. For sure, it is tragic for all of us, but being Iraqi himself and seeing the devastation of his country and now the close of his business would be heartbreaking beyond imagination.
I am sure Sami could use your support, even if it is a word of encouragement, a note of thanks, or probably best of all ... a dinner with your friends at his place? Please, let’s try to do what we can so this business remains in our city. What a huge loss it would be if it closes!
Sindbad’s address is:
Sindbad Mideastern Bakery. 2528 S Nicollet, Minneapolis. 612-871-6505.
Response to Samantha Smart 8.13.03
I agree with you Samantha, that this country’s bliss was bought at a terrible price for the indigenous people who once “owned” the land. It is not just the cabin owners that are culpable, but all of us, every home, every city, every farm is on land that once belonged to Native Americans.
I also think that “Part Two” would make an interesting story. In fact, that aspect of the story was part of my early drafts for this piece due to a strange irony in this story. One of the big issues the real estate agent, “Connie” and the Sipeses all discussed with me was the issue of clear title. All of these lands were once owned by Ojibwe families who then sold them because they could not afford to keep them, or needed the money to survive. In short the same market pressures that are now forcing the sales of family cabins forced the sale of ancestral Ojibwe lands. In the previous generations, this same system forced the tribes to sign away their rights to land in exchange for annuity payments, goods and services, hunting and fishing rights, and reservation lands, many of which the United States or the State of Minnesota ultimately failed to make good upon. Now the same dynamic is forcing the sales of family places again. It seems like the real story is how all land, as it becomes more valuable, seems to slowly shift from lower income people and families to more wealthy people or entities. When the land was part of the territories, it was not valuable and remained with the Ojibwe. When the timber made it valuable, it changed hands to the lumber companies, who cut it and then let it go for back taxes. Lower- and middle-income folks bought up the lands, built cabins and held it until recently, when lakeshore has become so valuable. Now it is changing hands again, always driven by the same inexorable, impersonal market forces.
In a subtle irony, sometimes, when the original Ojibwe families sold off their ancestral lands, not all members of the family signed the agreement. There have been cases where descendants of those who did not sign the original sales agreements have returned and filed liens against the land. Doing a thorough title search is a must in the Leech Lake area.
Thus the real story is perhaps the market system, and the current property tax system, both of which cause a variety of social ills, including destabilizing families and communities, forcing sprawl, over-development of lakeshore, unwise and unsustainable land development, and urban decay. The need to change an outdated property tax code so that it is socially progressive, and used as a force for positive public policy is the real issue. As for the fact that “everything they own came to them purely through genocidal means,” is a topic best covered in grade school text books, and established as an a priori basis of knowledge in this country. All are equally guilty, even city dwellers, as the recent Highway 55 controversy demonstrated.