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Latest Lunacies From The Only Democracy In The Middle East – OpEd


Today’s news brings two new lunacies from our friends in the Only Democracy in the Middle East .  In the first instance, the Israeli tax authorities impounded a shipment of copies of the Arabic language edition of Yehuda HaLevy’s seminal work of medieval Jewish philosophy, The Kuzari.  They did so because the books had been printed in Lebanon, one of the few places in the Middle East that prints Arabic books.  The Israeli authorities claimed that allowing the books into Israel would constitute “trading with the enemy.”

The book, originally written in Judeo-Arabic, a medieval version of Arabic written using Hebrew characters (similar in concept to Yiddish), was translated as a seven-year, uncompensated labor of love by an Israeli-Palestinian PhD student at Ben Gurion University.  He explained to Akiva Eldar that Israel often looks the other way when Arabic books are imported from nations in the region with whom Israel has strained relations, including Lebanon.  In this case, they decided to make an example of poor Yehuda HaLevy.  Why?  Who knows.  It may be precisely because it was a labor of love by an Israeli Palestinian and the police wish to make an example of him.  It may be because they don’t like books in general.  History is full of regimes which liked to make examples of books.

Or maybe it was this particular book.  After all, it tells the famous tale of the Khazar king who was persuaded by a Jewish scholar to convert to Judaism.  There are those among anti-Zionists who like to argue that contemporary Jews don’t trace a direct lineage back to ancient Israel, but rather to the Khazars.  This is part of the ongoing battle between Zionists who feel the need to prove such a connection in order to justify the Jewish claim on Israel; and between those who feel that severing that historical connection of the Jews to the land of Israel will weaken their historical claims.

It’s entirely possible that some Shin Bet agent has studied a little too much medieval philosophy (not enough to understand the true power of the work, but too much to ignore it), and decided that the Kuzari is part of the Palestinian project of delegitimization of Israel.  As a result, Israel appears to be engaging in a cultural boycott not only of Arabic language books, but of one of the great Jewish medieval poets and philosophers.

Another terrible irony of this entire mess is that the original book and author represented the pinnacle of medieval Jewish learning and intellectual achievement.  This achievement happened in good part because of the environment in which Ha-Levi lived, which allowed Jews and Arabs to co-exist peacefully, even fruitfully.  Could this be yet another unconscious reason Israel feels the need to suppress an Arabic-language edition?  It needs to stamp out the historical example of a Jewish book written within an Arab society and in a language that combined both Arabic and Hebrew.  That much peaceful co-existence and cultural interchange could be scary to Israeli officials who prefer their state to be Arab-rein.

If this weren’t so insane it would actually be mordantly funny.

The Jerusalem Post reports that the Ministry of the Environment has taken the pro-active step of commissioning scientists to examine the effect that climate change will have on Israel and the Middle East.  So far so good.  Until you recognize that the minister is Gilad Erdan, the very same Likud henchman who tried to skewer Meir Dagan in New York by calling him a political hack for questioning Bibi’s threats of war against Iran. Knowing that Erdan is such a lap dog will explain the mockery that his ministry has made of the science of climate change.

In this country, red-neck anti-science Republicans have similarly made a political football out of climate change.  But at least they’ve made a pretense of arguing scientific principles.  The Israeli report dispenses with science altogether and views climate change through the prism of the national security and the Israeli-Arab conflict:

In order to combat increased waves of illegal migration that will likely accompany climate change, Israel must secure its borders through impassable barriers, including “sea fences” along the Mediterranean and Red Sea, experts have concluded.

“The lack of water, warming and sea level rise, even if it will occur on a different schedule, will bring migration movements from all impoverished regions to every place where it is possible to escape this,” wrote a team of academics, led by Prof. Arnon Soffer and Dr. Anton Berkovsky of the University of Haifa’s Geography Department…

Among its suggestions for how to handle the geo-strategic implications of climate change, the team…called for a complete enclosure of Israel from all directions, including establishing sea fences along the Mediterranean and Red seas. In addition, the experts said that additional law enforcement will be required to deal with the ramifications of securing the Egyptian and Jordanian borders, as economic crisis might ensue for Negev Beduins who trade across these turfs. While securing Israel from all sides, however, the authorities must ensure for the safe passage of animals and plants.

…Soffer explained that the most troublesome spot in terms of migration to Israel is the Nile basin area, where a mixture of drastic climate changes and demographic explosions are pushing people to move northward. Meanwhile, they recognize that “Europe is completely under siege by the navvies,” so they cannot move in that direction.

…“I am one that fights for building fences all around Israeli borders,” he said. “We are an island – we don’t belong to this region, and we have to defend Israel from waves of migration from Egypt from Jordan and maybe from Syria. If we want to keep Israel a Jewish State, we will have to defend ourselves from what I call ‘climate refugees,’ exactly as Europe is doing now.”

After reading a passage like this you begin to wonder whether Soffer is a Stephen Colbert pseudo-scientist parody:

While the fences around Israel are necessary, according to Soffer, so too are corridors to allow the free passage of animals. Such passages, he said could be guarded by groups of soldiers for days at a time to allow the animals, such as snakes, to cross both ways.

So Israel will seal itself off from human aliens, but bestow mercy on the animals (non-human ones, that is).

Think of the psychological profile of a supposed learned scholar who thinks in such deeply paranoid ways of those surround Israel.  Think of the delusional thinking that allows him to believe that the solution to an epidemic is to turn Israel into a battleship that can fight off those who threaten it.  This, in effect is a transference of Israeli security policy into the realm of climate science.  Just as security policy is bankrupt so is this approach to a coming major catastrophe.

Note that Soffer doesn’t propose that Israel contribute scientifically so solving the problems of climate change.  He doesn’t suggest decreasing Israel’s carbon footprint or devising ways of lessening the world’s carbon emissions, all of which would help avert the crisis.  Instead, he merely suggests who to weather the human storm it will cause.  Soffer gives his nation, his discipline and science in general a bad name.  How can such racism infect someone who’s earned a position at a major Israeli university?

This article was published at Tikun Olam.

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Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

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