Saturday, February 28, 2015

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Proponents of traditional marriage say to gay people "You can form a civil union, why do you need to get 'married?'" A response is that this ignores the symbolism that makes marriage special, symbolism that is tied up with a vow before man and God "to have and to hold, for better or worse, 'til death do us part."  Those words make the heart pound as we walk down the aisle whether we believe in God, or not.

It's true, we are cavalier with the promise to stay true 'til death do us part. The divorce rate in the United States is a matter of some debate, but it's safe to say that perhaps 40% of marriages in the United States end in divorce, not death.  Yet, the symbolism is clear: marriage is like the union of the United States; you enter of your own free will, but leaving involves trauma, and you may not be able to leave.  Witness the Israeli film Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, (released 2/14 but just now coming into wider circulation).

Jews don't tempt fate with a promise of permanence.  Instead, the man declares his spouse consecrated unto him "according to the laws of Moses and Israel." Luckily for those who find they have made a mistake, the laws of Moses and Israel accept divorce as a fact of life. A man can initiate a divorce at any time, and for any reason, or no reason at all. A woman, too, can initiate divorce proceedings. But there's a hitch--she cannot obtain a divorce unless the man consents. No one said it would be easy.

Ronit Elkabetz as Viviane Amsalem
The film Gett, written and directed by Ronit and Schlomi Elkabetz, takes aim at the pain and injustice that can result from granting the husband a veto over divorce. The action in this brilliantly written and acted one hour 55 minute drama takes place in the sparsest of movie sets: an institutional  room, two tables for the litigants and their counsel, an elevated podium for the three judges. The room is harshly lit by daylight diffused through antiseptic window shades. Despite the appearance of several witnesses, no color or life from the real world enters this courtroom.

Simon Abkarian as Elisha Amsalem
The chief judge (played by Eli Gornstein) is a kindly character ready to do the right thing. He very quickly sizes up the situation. Viviane is a poised, attractive, charismatic hairdresser, faithful wife and mother of grown children, and she is utterly suffocated by her life with Elisha; Elisha is pious and Orthodox, well respected in his synagogue, but sullen and friendless, with left-over childhood issues, loveless, emotionally cold and distant, and stubborn--he adamantly refuses to grant his wife a Gett, the formal grant of freedom for his wife to marry another man.

The overly patient judge is in a tough position. The right thing to do is to grant this couple a divorce because they are obviously incompatible, and their life together is hell. But it is almost impossible for the court to do the right thing unless the husband consents. And he's not consenting.

One option is to make do. NPR had a story five years ago about Ramit Alon, a real life person in a similar situation. Faced with an intractable husband who refused to grant a Gett, she took the kids and abandoned the marriage. It' s an unsatisfactory solution, without child support, alimony, or the ability to start over with a new marriage. Such choices come with considerable social stigma.

Viviane Amsalem forces the issue. The result is a Kfkaesque trial, which drags on for five years. The lead judge is way too indecisive, much too indulgent of the husband's repeated failures to keep court dates,  refusing to issue a final decision. Michael Phillips had a nice turn of phrase in his review in the Chicago Tribune--for five years, he says, we watch these characters "trapped in the courtroom, trying to maneuver their way out of it, soul intact." Much is communicated through pauses, looks, facial expressions, and careful dialogue. Through witnesses and the wrangling of the attorneys we get glimpses into this male dominated world, some of its prejudices, and the limitations on the power of the court to act. The court indulges these parties much too long, through repeated build ups in tension and periodic catharsis. Without a hearsay rule, or other visible rules of evidence guiding the process, and no apparent clue of what they are looking for, the judges voyeuristically follow every rumor of longing, meetings in cafes, fantasies of emotional attachment to another. Without the legal tools to do the right thing, the judges seem to lack a moral compass for true justice.

Viviane ultimately gets her Gett.  The result is not uplifting.  Is it the fault of the law that empowers the husband in this case to withhold his consent, or is it the fault of the very human failing of Elisha, and the tragedy of this marriage? For what it's worth, the divorce rate in Israel is considerably lower than in the U.S.  The trials of Viviane depicted in this film are not the norm in Rabbinic courts.  There were 11,219 divorces in rabbinic courts in Israel in 2013, and the process took an average of 96 days. Do we enter into marriage until we no longer feel like it, or is there something more? Should the state establish barriers for leaving a marriage beyond the complicated business of disentangling lives entwined? Should this include some type of consent from the other? What do we mean when we imbue marriage with value over civil unions? The film presents a captivating meditation on such questions.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

The State of Human Rights: The Amnesty International Report 2014/15

You can download the just released 424 pp. Amnesty International survey of human rights in 160 countries here. 

Things are bad all over.  As UNHCR reported last June, more than 51 million people were forcefully displaced around the globe at the end of 2013.  This does not include another 3 million (mostly Palestinian) stateless persons.  Things did not get better in 2014.


Kidnappings, beheadings, drone strikes, rocket attacks from the air, torture, artillery shellings, suicide bombings....most of it directed at civilian populations.  The state of human rights around the world is awful. Syria, Ukraine, Nigeria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, Somalia, Sudan; ISIL, Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda, FARC, EPR..., the list of insurgencies, criminal movements, and dysfunctional states around the world is long.

Amnesty thinks that, collectively, we could do more.  From the Amnesty introduction:

This has been a devastating year for those seeking to stand up for human rights and for those caught up in the suffering of war zones. Governments pay lip service to the importance of protecting civilians. And yet the world's politicians have miserably failed to protect those in greatest need. Amnesty International believes that this can and must finally change. .... 
[T]ime and again, civilians bore the brunt in conflict. In the year marking the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, politicians repeatedly trampled on the rules protecting civilians - or looked away from the deadly violations of these rules committed by others. ....
Some might argue that nothing can be done, that war has always been at the expense of the civilian population, and that nothing can ever change. This is wrong.  It is essential to confront violations against civilians, and to bring to justice those responsible. 
One obvious and practical step is waiting to be taken: Amnesty International has welcomed the proposal, now backed by around 40 governments,  for the UN Security Council to adopt a code of conduct agreeing to voluntarily refrain from using the veto in a way which would block Security Council action in situations of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. That would be an important first step, and could save many lives. 
The failures, however, have not just been  in terms of preventing mass atrocities. Direct assistance has also been denied to the millions who have fled the violence that has engulfed their villages and towns.  Those governments who have been most eager to speak out loudly on the failures of other governments have shown themselves reluctant to step forward and provide the essential assistance that those refugees require - both in terms of financial assistance, and providing resettlement. Approximately 2% of refugees from Syria had been resettled by the end of 2014 - a figure which must at least triple in 2015. ....
From Washington to Damascus, from Abuja to Colombo, government leaders have justified horrific human rights violations by talking of the need to keep the country "safe". In reality, the opposite is the case. Such violations are one important reason why we live in such a dangerous world today. There can be no security without human rights.

We have repeatedly seen that, even at times that seem bleak for human rights - and perhaps especially at such times - it is possible to create remarkable change.

We must hope that, looking backward to 2014 in the years to come, what we lived through in 2014 will be seen as a nadir - an ultimate low point - from which we rose up and created a better future.

                                                  Salil Shetty, Secretary General
A call for a voluntary code of conduct by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (U.S., Russia, France, China, and the U.K.) not to veto Security Council resolutions addressing war crimes is pretty modest. It does point to the problem: the world utterly lacks an effective, credible body with legitimacy, power, and will to enforce human rights around the world. The nations of the world continue to live largely in a Hobbesian state of nature with each other. There are large blocks of nations held together by the glue of economic self-interest, but the UN is a wholly inadequate body for preventing wars, much less for taking effective steps to control local insurgencies, or to prevent the violation of human rights. Even without Security Council vetoes, the UN lacks the legitimacy, lacks the will, and lacks the power to protect human rights abuses around the world.

Effective, just, and non-corrupt government administration is difficult to come by in large and successful areas like the U.S., China, Russia, and Europe. Many countries around the world don't manage good government even on a much smaller scale: e.g., Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and most of Africa. The world is a diverse and complicated place and the achievement of a just, effective, and not-corrupt world government is a long ways off. In the meantime, human rights will continue to be a beacon for this vision.  I'm glad organizations like Amnesty International are continuing to carry that torch.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

On Being Surrounded by 400 Million who Refuse to Recognize Israel and Promote Fantasies of Its Disappearance

During a bike tour through Northern Italy a few years back, I asked our tour leader about the Italian Swiss.  Living mostly south of the Alps adjacent to Italy, they make up the approximately seven percent of the population that speaks Italian.  I asked if there was any longing by the Italian Swiss to maybe one day join Italy. He said “Of course not. They have it much better to be part of Switzerland than they would have if they joined Italy. Swiss Italians thoroughly identify as Swiss.”

This came up in a discussion I had with an Israeli academic recently.  "I don’t think Swiss Italians would feel that way," I said, "if Switzerland militarily occupied Turin, Milan, and the Po Valley and if Swiss-Italians were systematically discriminated against in Switzerland." This hit a nerve with my Israeli correspondent.  "You could have just as well told a story of how the Swiss would feel towards the Italians in general if they were surrounded by 400 million of them who were refusing to recognise their right to live in their region, considered them colonialists and crusaders and promoted fantasies of their disappearance, and how that conflict would play itself."

This narrative of Israel "in a tough neighborhood" surrounded by a sea of 400 million hostile Arabs who deny Israel the right of existence is something we often hear from Israeli leaders.  But how realistic is this narrative? How realistic is it to use this narrative of victimhood as an excuse for not making peace with the Palestinians?

The Neighborhood

According to Pew Research there are 317 million Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa.  If we look at the region, it's apparent that it is unrealstic for anyone to assert that this represents a sea of Arabs monolithically fixated on Israel's destruction. 

There are 82 million Arabs in Israel's neighbor to the south, Egypt. Egypt has a peace treaty with Israel, and Egypt has declared Hamas a terrorist organization, and Egypt has blocked the tunnels in southern Gaza.  Israel has significant economic trade with Egypt, which flourished under Mubarak, increased under Morsi, and is continuing under El-Sisi.  Egypt has clearly recognized Israel’s right to live in the region.  It’s not being realistic to suggest they have not. 

There are 74 million Arabs in Turkey.  Turkey recognized Israel in 1949. Turkey continues to have strong economic relations with Israel—there was two way trade of $5.4 billion in 2014, an all time high. Turkey is not a military threat to Israel.  Turkey accepts Israel’s right to live in the region, although the relationship is frosty over the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza. But the claim that Turkey does not accept Israel's existence is false.

There are 28 million Arabs in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has common interests with Israel against both ISIS and Iran. Israel and Saudi Arabia have growing trade relations, which are clandestine, but estimated in the “several dozens of millions” by the Jerusalem Post. Saudi Arabia has proposed that Israel withdraw to the ’67 borders and  has been prepared to formally recognize Israel within those borders. Saudi Arabia is no military threat to Israel. It’s not realistic to suggest that Saudi Arabia is refusing to recognize Israel’s right to live in the region. 

There are 6.5 million Arabs living in Israel's neighbor to the East, Jordan. Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel and the two countries have agreed to recognize each other’s sovereignty and to cooperate on tourism, trade, and they pledged that neither country would allow its territory to become a staging ground for military strikes by a third country.  Jordan and Israel established industrial zones and in 2014 signed a 15 year deal for Israel to supply natural gas to Jordan. Reuters reports that 10,589 trucks crossed with goods from Jordan into Israel last year. Israel is becoming a trade hub for the surrounding Arab world—partly spurred on by the implosion of Syria.  When I visited friends at Kibbutz Ashdot Ya'akov last year—located on the Jordanian border--they remarked how peaceful that border now is. Jordan has accepted Israel’s right to live in the region. It’s simply not realistic to suggest otherwise. 

There are 33 million Arabs living in Iraq. Many of these are Kurds, and Israel has good relations with the Kurds.  The Kurds have been selling oil to (or through?) Israel contrary to the wishes of Bagdhad. The situation has changed a lot in the wake of the Gulf War. Iraq is no longer a military threat to Israel. It’s not realistic to point to Iraq as an excuse for not making peace with the Palestinians.

There are 24 million Arabs in Yemen. Yemen is a mess, but more of a concern to the Saudi's than to Israel.  It’s not realistic to suggest Yemen is relevant to Israel’s problems in an important way. 

There are 9 million Arabs living in the United Arab Emirates.  Although the UAE maintains travel restrictions against Israeli's and officially boycotts Israeli trade, as with Saudi Arabia, there are clandestine contacts. For example, there are indications of flights from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv, and a French intelligence organization reported in 2012 that a Geneva based Israeli owned company, AGT International, had signed a contract worth $800 million to provide Abu Dhabi’s Critical National Infrastructure Authority with “surveillance cameras, electronic fences and sensors to monitor strategic infrastructure and oil fields.” Peace with the Palestinians would greatly assist this relationship.

There are 2 million Arabs living in Qatar, but due to its oil and gas wealth, they carry some weight.  Qatar has a GDP of $200 billion--which approaches Israel's GDP of $273 billion. Qatar is hardly monolithically hostile to Israel:  Qatar established trade relations with Israel in 1996; Qatar has co-funded a soccer stadiums in Israel; Qatar has made attempts to be instrumental in negotiations with the Palestinians; in 2013 Qatar reportedly assisted in bringing Yemenite Jews to Israel.  Although Qatar acts as host to the Hamas leadership, indications are that Qatar is willing to be constructive in finding a solution for the Israel-Palestine issue.

There are approximately 3 million Muslims in Kuwait, which has a GDP of $53 billion. Last November Kuwait authorized tourism packages for Kuwaitis to visit Israel--part of a wider trend of tourism from Arab countries to Israel.  Kuwait supports the boycott-divest-sanction movement against Israel and has ceased to do business with international companies that do business with settlements in the occupied territories.  Kuwaiti law broadly bans trade with Israeli companies. Nevertheless, there is no indication that Kuwait's stance prevents Israel from making peace with the Palestinians.

There are 23 million Arabs living in Syria, which is four years into a viscious civil war. "Israel is neutral, isn’t going to get dragged into it, and the longer it goes on, the less it threatens Israeli national security," said Barry Rubin in the Jerusalem Post last summer, and this assessments seems correct.  This seems true whether the Assad regime survives, or not. Syria is not driving the Palestinian solution, nor is it standing in the way of Israel making peace with the Palestinians today. 

Iran and Hezbollah and Hamas

Israel's northern neighbor, Lebanon, has Hezbollah, a Shi'ite faction that is hostile to Israel. Hezbollah has been strongly supported by the Assad regime in Syria and by Iran.  To the extent that the Assad regime is weakened in the current civil war, this will be a set back for Hezbollah and this can only be good for Israel. Hezbollah arose in Lebanon following Israel's 1982 invasion and subsequent 18 year occupation of Southern Lebanon.  Their antipathy towards Israel as an occupying force has served their sponsors Syria and Iran: Syria because it wants back the Golan Heights, and Iran because they are seeking influence in the region through their leadership in anti-israel policies.

Israeli Military strategists see threats on the Northern border.  Amos Horel in Haaretz worries about Hamas, seemingly out of options in Gaza, looking for a strategic alliance with Hezbollah (and Iranian support). This is complicated for Hamas because Hamas is aligned with Sunni revolutionaries in Syria against the Assad regime and against Iran.  However, to the extent that Hamas can get back in Iran's and Hezbollah's good graces and convince them to support Hamas in launching attacks on Northern Israel from Lebanon or Syria, or to find a way to assist them to launch operations in the West Bank, these are threats that must be taken seriously.  Similarly, the threat posed by Iran as a nuclear power is a threat that must be taken very seriously.  Nevertheless, it seems clear that these threats do not trace back to a monolithic refusal of the Arab world to accept Israel: these threats are a direct result of the occupation of the West Bank, the blockade of Gaza, and Israel's invasions of Syria and Lebanon.

Apocalyptic talk of “we are in a sea of 400 million who hate us and want to destroy us” (as Israeli leaders are fond of saying) is an inaccurate, and very counterproductive delusion. Surely there are different strategies to debate regarding how to deal with the threats that exist.  It is plausible that threats posed by Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran make reaching peace more difficult, but these threats provide no reason whatsoever for avoiding efforts to reach peace.

Recognition of Israel as a Jewish State

Whereas it is incorrect to say that the Arab states are united in their desire to eliminate Israel as a state (because they have accepted Israel as a political entity in the Middle East and are productively engaging with it), it is correct to say that the Arab states in the Middle East do not accept Israel as a "Jewish State." This is an important distinction. A refusal to accept Israel as an established state implies a state of war and a lack of any constructive involvement.  It's what Netanyahu speaks of when he refers to Iran and points to its most extreme rhetoric suggesting that Israel should be eliminated as a state.  A refusal to accept Israel as a "Jewish State," however, does not suggest a state of war: it is a refusal to accept Israel as an ethnocracy by and for Jews that relegates Arabs to second class status, and that privileges Jews all over the world for immigration to the country over Palestinian refugees who lived in the country. The latter is a matter of opinion; opinion about what the character of the state is, or should be.

Netanyahu telling the Palestinians that Israel won't engage in peace talks unless the Palestinians accept Israel as a Jewish state is like Soviet Russia telling the U.S. it won't enter into arms control treaties unless we accept them as a communist state. It's like Saudi Arabia telling the West that "we won't sell you oil unless you recognize us as a Wahabbist theocracy."

We have feelings about Israel as an ethnocracy that privileges Jews over all others. We have feelings about Israel permanently occupying 4 million Palestinians without giving them citizenship, the right to vote, or due process of law. We don't like it. We think Israel as a Hebrew Republic that celebrates the Hebrew language and that celebrates Jewish holidays and culture, and provides a place of refuge for Jews in distress, but that also guarantees equal rights for its minorities, is a good thing. Israel as a "Jewish state" like Netanyahu has in mind reflects the sentiments of Marine LaPen and her Front National Party in France, it reflects the sentiments of PEGIDA in Prussia, and the xenophobic policies of the British National Party and the American Tea Party. We don't like it.  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Rawabi Still Waiting for Water

Rawabi is an $800 million dollar Palestinian financed housing project northwest of Ramallah. Construction has been underway since 2010, and more than a thousand units have been completed and are move-in ready, except for one thing.  They can't get a water hook up.

The vision is for a city with 25,000 residents when completed. The project should have everyone's support. It provides construction jobs for Palestinians, it provides business for Israeli suppliers, and it should provide much needed housing for Palestinians.

"If Rawabi fails, it's a failure for the two-state solution. It's a failure for the peace process", said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, in a BBC article.

But, hard to believe at this stage, fail it might. Forces are conspiring to make the project fail. For some Israelis, any Palestinian success is a set back for total Israeli domination of the West Bank. Some Israeli's don't want to agree to a water hook up unless Palestinians agree retroactively to approve water hook-ups at Israeli West Bank settlements, something Palestinians are loath to do. Some Palestinians feel a successful project for the Palestinian middle-class normalizes the occupation and amounts to collaboration.

Committed buyers are beginning to back out. If the Project fails it will be another blow for entropy, chaos, and war.




Thursday, February 5, 2015

"Chabadniks Tend to be a Positive Lot"--Joseph Telushkin

The San Francisco Jewish Community Center has an ongoing quality lecture series.  Many of the talks can be listened to on video here.  It's a great place to go on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Last September they hosted Rabbi Joseph Telushkin who came to share the book he recently wrote about "The Rebbe" Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the leader of the Chabad movement from 1951 to 1994.

Telushkin was introduced as one of the 50 best speakers in the United States today. I buy that. He is extraordinarily warm and engaging. A great story-teller. His talk was centered around seven lessons learned from Schneerson--good advice, memorably delivered:
  • Practice non-judgmental love towards others
  • Try to always stay focused on the individual
  • Develop a fearlessness in yourself which starts with an understanding that the first person you must consult is yourself
  • Learn to disagree without being disagreeable
  • Focus on what's in front of you 
  • Anything worth doing is worth doing now
  • Don't allow yourself to get dissuaded
Give a listen.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Is The Golden Gate Bridge Suicide Barrier Just Another Boondoggle?

Last year the board of the public entity that controls the Golden Gate Bridge (the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District) voted to construct a $76 million suicide net. A final design was approved last December, and the project is slated to go out to bid in March, 2015. This  seems like money not well spent.

The national suicide rate is approximately 9.4/100,000.  The rate is higher in rural areas, lower in heavily urban areas.

Here is a Rand study map of suicide rates in California's by area.  The San Francisco Area is listed as 7.51-10.0 per hundred thousand. Let's call it consistent with the national average.



According to a SF Chronicle article this morning, there were 38 suicides at the Golden Gate bridge in 2013 (down from an all time high of 46 the year before). According to this Mercury News story, the average is about 24/year.

The Bay Area population is ~7.4 million.  This means the Bay Area must have about 695 suicides/year (9.4/100k). San Francisco, with a population of 800,000 has a bout 75 suicides/year.

The 38 suicides at the Golden Gate Bridge last year represents about 5% of the Bay Area suicides, or about 50% of San Francisco's suicides.

A final design of the barrier was approved on December 19, 2014:

Squiggly supports on right. 
By spending $76 million on this unsightly and undoubtedly high-maintenace suicide barrier, will the suicide rate per 100,000 for the Bay Area, or San Francisco be decreased?  In other words, do we believe that the overall Bay Area suicide rate will decrease 3-5% on account of this barrier? It seems highly unlikely to me. In fact, studies of the effectiveness of erecting barriers at popular suicide jumping spots in reducing overall suicide rates suggest there is no such reduction.

The bridge district said it detained 161 people in 2014 after being seen as suicide risks.  It seems that enhanced patrolling of the bridge could be effective in further reducing the incidence of jumpers.  I have recently seen bicycle patrols on the bridge.  They could set up a nice guard-shack in the middle of the span on both sides, and man it full time.  They could equip them with tranquilizer guns (I'm joking).

Permanently placing a suicide watch in a strategic position on both sides of the bridge would require ~6 full time equivalent employees.  Assuming a cost of $100,000/year, this would cost just $600,000 per year.  That is a relatively minor operational expense, as opposed to a $76 million capital expenditure (not including financing costs and maintenance and upkeep costs).

I say boondoggle.


Israeli Election 6: Stav Shaffir reads Naftali Bennet the riot Act!


Click on cc for translation.

Like similar speeches in democratic legislative assemblies around the world, Stav Shaffir delivered this rip-snorter of a speech to a mostly empty Knesset chamber (Jan. 21, 2015).  It takes away some of the drama. Nevertheless, the video has gone viral in Israel.   

Shaffir is in fourth position on the current Zionist Camp (Labor/Hatnua) list. At 29 she is the youngest member of the Knesset. She has battled for, and been successful, at bringing about greater transparency in the Israeli national budget.  

Haaretz has some of her background: 
Shaffir’s comments were an unplanned response to statements made by the head of the religious right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party, Naftali Bennett, she told Haaretz this week. “It was completely improvised,” she said. “We had come to the Knesset to vote on raising the minimum wage, when Naftali Bennett got up and started attacking my party. It made me really angry, and I decided I had to respond.” 
The fact that the video of that impromptu speech went viral, said Shaffir, proves to her that “the Israeli public yearns for politics of hope and is sick of the politics of despair.” 
That was little more than a week after Shaffir proved her overwhelming popularity within the party. She placed No. 2 in the January 14 Labor primary, giving her the fourth spot on the Zionist Camp ticket, the joint slate merging Isaac Herzog’s Labor with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah — just one rung below Herzog, Livni and former party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Woody Guthrie Must be Turning in His Grave

Jeep is an iconic American brand, GI Joes, MASH, Rat Patrol ... and all that. The present Italian owners of that brand seek to capitalize on this brand's iconic American status with their 2015 Superbowl ad for the Jeep Renegade model: "America's smallest, lightest SUV," says the ad. 

But, of course, it’s a fraudulent sign of the times. This Jeep is made in Italy on the Fiat 500X frame, which was also featured in the separate humorous “blue pill” commercial. Chrysler—including its Jeep brand—is now fully owned by the Italian company. The bottom line is the Jeep Renegade is an Italian car, employing Italian labor. It’s not “America’s” car at all.

The same is true of Budweiser, which featured a popular anthropomoric horse-puppy ad. Budweiser is owned by Belgian-Brazilian InBev. But unlike Jeep, Budweiser continues to be made in the United States, and to employ American labor.

Fiat is attempting to make Jeep into a world wide brand. Good for them, but to my ears this Superbowl ad for the Jeep Renegade struck an odd chord.

Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land is Your Land" in February 1940 as he arrived in New York City from Oklahoma. He recorded the song for Folkways records in 1944, but it was not released until 1951. The Weavers had a hit with it in 1958, using just the first three verses, but by then the song had already been performed by countless musicians and seeped into the American consciousness. Over the years the song has achieved iconic status in American culture.

The Superbowl ad starts with traditional American scenery to the first stanza of the song: “From California to the New York island/ From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters/This land was made for you and Me.” But with the second stanza, the scenery shifts to an Asian waterway (“As I went a-walking that ribbon of highway/”), to the Great Wall of China near Bejing (“I saw above me that endless skyway/”), to Rio De Janeiro and its immense statue of Christ the Redeemer (“I saw below me that golden valley/”), to the hinterlands of the Middle East (“This land was made for you and me”).

We have associated these lyrics and “this land” with the United States. We know what this song means in the American idiom: it is a secular left response to Kate Smith’s "God Bless America" with its religious right iconography. It extolls the beauty and majesty of this land in strictly secular terms with a stridently egalitarian spirit. It is anti-corporate, and especially anti-corporate married to Christ-the Redeemer iconography. Woody Guthrie must be turning in his grave.

Striving to Eliminate the Palestinian Narrative

Israel is a country with indeterminate borders and with an indeterminate population. It's a problem. In 1947 the United Nations declared that there should be two countries, Israel and Palestine, and it outlined borders that tried to separate the two countries along ethnic lines—a Jewish state in the areas where Jews had settled and dominated, and a Palestinian state in the areas where Arabs lived and predominated. The UN vision was for two countries and two national narratives.  But for nearly half a century Israel has controlled the entire area reserved for the two states. Is there still room for a Palestinian national narrative?

The platform of the governing party in Israel for most of the past 37 years declares that no Palestinian state can be created in the territory controlled by Israel, and that Israel and its neighbors should jointly bear the cost of relocating populations. Netanyahu has proposed that the Israeli basic laws define Israel as "the nation state of one people only – the Jewish people – and of no other people." The end of the two state paradigm, however,  raises new questions for this vision of Zionism.  In light of the one state reality, the goal of the proposed nation state bill appears to be to eliminate any competing Palestinian narrative. 

In a talk about the Israeli elections at congregation Kol Shofar in Marin County (San Francisco Area)  on January 13, Einat Wilf expressed the view that Netanyahu's formulation of the Nation State Bill is no big deal. "If you are for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, then of course you must believe all these things" she said (I'm paraphrasing). I shared with her my explanation why I believe it is a big deal. She responded with two emails and she referred me to an article she wrote in Tower Magazine: Towards a Zionism of Inclusion

Einat Wilf supports a two state solution. She also believes the Nation State Bill would not turn the state of Israel towards ethnocracy. I think she's wrong about that--that a country's elevation of the narrative of one ethnic group, and denying the narrative of other ethnic groups is the very definition of ethnocracy.

The solution, she argues in her Tower article, is for Palestinians to accept the narrative of Zionism:  to accept that the state will have open Jewish immigration, and Arabs won't; to accept that Jews will have the right of "self-determination" in the state, and Arabs won't; and to accept, presumably, that Jews will have control of the apparatus of state, and the Arabs won't--forever. In return, the Jewish state will become more inclusive of Palestinians.

In her Tower article, Einat Wilf writes optimistically: "Theodore Herzel's original vision of Zionism included Jews, Christians, and Muslims living in harmony with a shared purpose. The history of Zionism tells us that this moment may not be too far off."  What is this history of inclusion that gives cause for such optimism?

In the beginning ..., says Wilf:
Herzl despised the Jews of the East. In his eyes, they were primitives stuck in medieval times, resistant to the Enlightenment and decidedly un-European. He certainly did not think they could carry the mantle of Zionism and build the state he envisioned. The last thing he wanted for a Jewish state was to replicate the shtetl life of Eastern Europe and Tsarist Russia. But even as Herzl was being rebuffed by the cultured Jews of the West, he was, as Elon wrote, “surprised by the resonance of his tract in the East; he had expected it to strike hardest in the assimilated West, not in the East, which he regarded as backward, even primitive.” But the Eastern European Jews were the ones who embraced Zionism. They were inspired by his vision. They wanted to be the builders of the new state. And they were willing to do what it took to resurrect Jewish sovereignty in the blistering heat of the Land of Israel. ....
Overwhelmed by this reception, Herzl the writer realized that the time had come for rewriting. He recast the Jews of Eastern Europe as the true national Jews. He wrote them into his story as those who had kept their sense of being a nation while the assimilated Jews of the West had not. In Herzl’s rewritten narrative, the Jews of Eastern Europe became better suited to the task of building a Jewish state than anyone else; because they, above all others, knew what it meant to be a nation; and Zionism was first and foremost about the national revival of the Jewish people. ....
The Jews of Eastern Europe became the ... ones who built its foundations against overwhelming odds. By embracing them and rewriting his narrative to reflect their enthusiasm for the cause, Herzl demonstrated that, for Zionism to survive, it would need to include everyone who supported it. He also showed how to achieve this: By rewriting the story to include the previously excluded group; and to do so in a way that not only included the new group, but made it one and the same with the Zionist vision. 
In the beginning, sophisticated Western European vision of Zionism became inclusive of nationalist Eastern European Shtetl culture. Then the Holocaust happened.
[A]s the situation in the Diaspora became more severe and ultimately genocidal, the choice made by many Jews to remain in Europe was scorned. For many Zionists, the growing strength of their embryonic state and the growing danger faced by the Jews of Europe delegitimized life in the Diaspora. The negation of the exile ... was not just about negating the legitimacy of Jewish life in the Diaspora, but also negating its very essence. Zionism created an entire series of opposites expressing this: Active vs. passive, strong vs. weak, proud vs. humiliated, self-sufficient vs. dependent, healthy vs. sick. Zionism came to be seen as a cure for the sickness inflicted upon Judaism by the exile.
So when the Holocaust occurred, it was an affront to Zionism’s core ideology. The Jews who perished in the Holocaust represented everything that Zionism wanted to change. The victims were seen as passive, going to their deaths like “lambs to the slaughter.” They were weak, dependent, and suffered the greatest possible humiliation—an industrial genocide. Whenever they rebelled, it was because they were Zionists. The Warsaw Ghetto resistance fighters, for example, became national heroes, in part because they were members of Zionist youth movements preparing to immigrate to Israel. The survivors were even worse in the Zionist perception. They were suspect simply because they had survived. The suspicion was that they must have engaged in deceitful and treacherous actions in order to do so.
At first, Zionism rejected the Holocaust, but beginning with the trial of Adolf Eichman in 1961 Zionism changed its narrative to include the Holocaust.  "The survivors of the Holocaust eventually became Israel’s new heroes," says Wilf. "Not just the Zionist resistance fighters, but any and all who survived... who were hailed as Israel’s true heroes."

Similarly, the Zionist narrative has changed to become more inclusive of non-European Jews. Jewish immigrants from Arab countries "were not welcomed or included in any real sense.... For decades they suffered overt and covert discrimination," says Wilf.  But gradually their story has been incorporated into the fabric of Zionism.  The same thing happened with Russian immigrants, many of whom--although they could claim citizenship because of their Jewish ancestry--"were not Jews themselves, and some were practicing Christians."

Similarly, Wilf points to the Druze and Bedouin populations (~3 percent of population), which have been integrated into the army, as another success story.
This is not to say that there are no problems with discrimination or other issues, but it does show that Zionism is willing to embrace those who align themselves with it, whether Jewish or non-Jewish. Indeed, it seems that Zionism only finds it difficult to include non-Jews when they embrace competing Arab or Palestinian national identities. Zionism in itself can include non-Jews in its story, so long as they do not align themselves with a hostile narrative.
Zionism has incorporated Eastern Europeans, Holocaust survivors, Mizrahi, Druze, and Bedouin ... and the beat goes on ....
The current frontier of inclusion is that of ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli Christians.
In the past, Israeli Christians by and large adopted Arab and Palestinian identities. Christians were among the most important thinkers and shapers of modern Arab and Palestinian nationalism, and often its most zealous adherents. This is due, in part, to their status as a minority among Arab Muslims. In recent years, however, as the Arab Spring revolutions have placed the lives of Middle Eastern Christians in jeopardy, Israeli Christians have begun to explore the possibility of an Israeli rather than Arab Christian identity. As Arab identity is increasingly perceived as exclusively Muslim and even openly hostile to Christians, Israeli identity has emerged as a new possibility for identification. Like the Druze and Bedouin, this is being explored through service in the IDF, as more and more voices in the Christian community look to military service as a means of engaging with “their state.” In response, the IDF is taking steps to make military service more accessible. This process has only just begun and is politically controversial, but it demonstrates again that Zionism is willing and capable of integrating non-Jews who do not embrace a competing identity hostile to Zionism.
This history of Zionism, argues Wilf, suggests that Zionism will continue to be inclusive--and provides hope that it will (of necessity) become more inclusive of Palestinian culture and its Palestinian citizens. How will this happen?
The last frontier of inclusion is unquestionably that of Israel’s Muslims, who currently describe themselves as Arab Palestinian Muslims holding Israeli citizenship, and it is the most difficult. At the moment, it seems almost ludicrous to think about their future inclusion in the Zionist narrative. Israeli Muslims themselves are likely to see the idea as an affront to them and their sense of Arab-Palestinian national identity. But I would like to present the possibility that, sometime in the future, such inclusion could take place. 
Currently, the Palestinian national movement and Zionism appear so at odds that it is nearly impossible to conceive of a situation in which the Zionist narrative could be sufficiently rewritten to include Israeli Muslims. The furthest that most Israeli Muslims are willing to go in this direction is to demand a “neutral” Israeli state, stripped of any signs or symbols of being Jewish or Zionist. The argument put forth by them and especially their leadership is that as long as the state of Israel continues to be Jewish or Zionist, Muslims can have legal rights, but will never truly be a part of Israeli society.
As a result, for many Israeli Muslims, the only path to full inclusion and belonging is an end to Zionism. 
I think this sets up a straw man.  Israeli Muslims don't need the state to be "stripped of any signs or symbols of being Jewish."  What they need is equal treatment, equal opportunities, equal rights to purchase and develop land, an end to discrimination, and support and accommodation of Arab symbols, and an end to an immigration policy that allows all Jews of the world, and only Jews (and their hangers on, like me) to immigrate, while keeping out spouses of Israeli Arab citizens.  Looking at it from the outside, there is nothing wrong with the state of Israel providing preferences for Jewish immigration based on safety concerns--but the state should not permit free immigration to Sheldon Adelson, Diane Feinstein, Chuck Shumer, or Eric Cantor at the expense of Arab Israelis.

"End of Zionism" talk is not helpful because the term lacks all precision.  "Zionism" as conceived in 1896 has accomplished it's goal and purpose.  The Hebrew language has been revived, a secular Jewish state with Jewish culture and holidays has been built in the ancient homeland.  The question now is what will this state look like in the next 50 years.  What is its vision; what are its attributes?

Jewish and Palestinian national narratives are in conflict, observes Wilf in her Tower article, and the solution is for Palestinians to let go of their national narrative:
If Zionism and Palestinian nationalism are in direct conflict, the embrace of one naturally implies the rejection of the other. But it is also, of course, impossible for Zionism to accept, since it demands not the rewriting of the Zionist story, but the burning of the book itself. 
As a result, the inclusion of Israeli Muslims in the Zionist narrative is likely to happen under one of two extreme conditions: Full peace between Israel and the Arab world, or an Arab world so engulfed in chaos and brutality that Israeli Muslims distance themselves from an Arab Palestinian national identity in search of an alternative. Under one of these extreme but not impossible scenarios, Israeli Muslims would no longer be Arab Palestinian nationalists, but Israelis and Zionists.
Should either of these scenarios materialize, the obstacles to inclusion would be lifted, at least in principle. One could begin to imagine the Zionist narrative being retold so that Israeli Muslims are fully included in the story. This inclusive narrative could be about how Muslims tended and kept the land for centuries, welcoming the returning Jews to share it for the good of all. It could be the story of how local traditions of generous hospitality led the local Muslims to provide refuge to the Jews coming to their shores. It could be a story with new heroes—Jews and Muslims who exemplified cooperation long before it was the norm; Muslims who protected Jews from harm; Muslims who sold land to the Jews and shared valuable agricultural knowledge with them; and Muslim teachers who taught about Zionism without neglecting their own side of the story.
It could be a narrative that resurrects the buried history of Muslim support for Zionism in Palestine. This history was recently uncovered in Hillel Cohen’s book Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, which covers the many dissident elements in the Palestine Arab Muslim community that viewed Zionism positively—as Herzl had hoped—and even assisted it through land sales, intelligence, and military assistance against the British. It could be a story that reminds us of heroes like Haifa mayor Hassan Bey Shukri, who wrote to the British government in 1921,
We strongly protest against the attitude of the said delegation concerning the Zionist question. We do not consider the Jewish people as an enemy whose wish is to crush us. On the contrary, we consider the Jews as a brotherly people sharing our joys and troubles and helping us in the construction of our common country.
It could perhaps become the story of how the Muslims, together with Jews, made the land of Israel whole again, bringing together all the religions that originated and flourished within its borders. It could be a story of return and reunification. A story of how the Muslims had to come to terms with being a minority and the Jews with being a majority before both could truly live as one, introducing the key element in any drama of return and reunification: The overcoming of obstacles. 
It must be left to far better storytellers than myself to imagine what this narrative might look like. Right now, it requires the most fanciful imagination. But if Zionism has taught us anything, it is that reality begins with a dream.
I don't think the solution is for Arab Palestinians to give up their struggle for a Palestinian identity and for them to submit to second class status. Arab citizens of Israel will not accept such a solution. A solution will require a vision that can accommodate both Jewish and Palestinian identities and narratives in a positive way.

Peace with the greater Arab world does not solve the Palestinian issue. What Israel needs is an end to the occupation and peace with the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Such a peace will not come about without room for a healthy Palestinian national narrative, and accommodation within Israel of such a narrative for its Palestinian citizens. But Wilf is surely correct that reality begins with a dream.  The question is what is that dream?