Monday, May 02, 2011

Yom Ha-Shoah

1. After Israel was created, there was intense debate as to what
would be the appropriate date for Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day.

The decision to hold it several days after Passover, near the end of
the Jewish month of Nissan, struck many as inappropriate. Nissan is
the month of Passover, of liberation, of rejoicing. Even minor
expressions of grief, such as some of the prayers containing emotions
of sadness, are not recited in Nissan. So holding Holocaust
Remembrance Day was flying in the face of millennia of Jewish
tradition. Some suggested that the 10th day of Teveth was a more
appropriate day. It is the traditional day in which Jews mourn those
whose date of death or circumstances of death are unknown. And
holding it then would avoid the ambiguity of a date in Nissan.

On the other hand, the second half of Nissan already holds some
emotional ambiguity. Aside from the joy of Passover liberation, there
is the period of the counting of the Omer, beginning the evening after
the Seder, which begins in Nissan and also is a period of sadness and
commemoration. So more ambiguity.

Being Jewish is so complicated!

And this year that ambiguity is taking place in exaggerated measures.
It is Yom Hashoah in Israel. When the sirens went off at 10 AM I was
in a minibus with other riders. The Christian Arab driver of the
minibus pulled over and politely invited all passengers to get out for
the two minute siren and stand at attention in silence, the unique
expression of commemoration of the Holocaust that has been Israel's
since it was created.

But of course today was also the day of celebration of the elimination
of Osama bin Laden. I feel as much elation about that as any of the
people in the crowds of celebration across the US.

More emotional ambiguity!! Perhaps it is the true Zeitgeist, the
inevitable experience of all Jews in the 21st century.

2. There are so many stories and documentaries related to the
Holocaust that fill the Israeli media this week, so I will not bore
you with any retelling.

There was one story that I found intriguing, and I doubt you have
heard of it. It appears today in Haaretz, of all places. It is not
exactly a story of great heroism or partisan battle or horror or
suffering. Actually it is a story of a simple fellow, a quiet guy.
It is just a strange story, one that illustrates how bizarre and
multifaceted the modern Jewish experience is.

I will summarize the story, because it is a bit too long to translate
the entire Haaretz report.

It is the Holocaust story of Yisrael Tzubri, a Jew in Yemen. He lived
in the capital city of Yemen, Sana'a. He became a small merchant back
before World War I, where he sold eggs to Turkish soldiers stationed
in Yemen. Later he opened a clothing store and after that opened a
hotel, the only one at the time operating in Sana'a. Being the only
hotel, European merchants, diplomats and spies frequented it. Tzubri
spoke about 10 languages fluently, including Middle Eastern and
European ones.

The ruler of Yemen at the time, the Imam, shopped in Tzubri's store
and had close personal connections with him. Tzubri was a frequent
guest in the palace and sometimes served as an informal advisor. A
Hungarian historian who visited Yemen at the time described him as the
only person in the country who did not try to cheat the historian.
Prof. Yosef Tubi (from the University of Haifa – literature, who has
written about Yemenite Jewish poetry) wrote a book about Tzubri (in
Hebrew) titled "A Jew in the Service of the Imam."

In the mid-1930s, the ruler, the Imam, decided to expand and
strengthen his military. To do so he sent Tzubri as procurement
liaison and representative to Germany, which was already under Nazi
control. Based in Hamburg, Tzubri purchased weapons and other
products on behalf of Yemen and arranged for their shipment. He kept
careful documents, today preserved in Yad Vashem, the main Israeli
museum of the Holocaust. As World War II approached, Germany was
unsafe for him, and so was Yemen, where cronies of the ruler were
whispering in the Imam's ears against Tzubri. While most foreign
Jewish merchants who were still in Hamburg for one reason or another
were seeking ways to escape to the US, Tzubri and his daughter chose
to go to Israel. He arrived in 1939, just as the war was breaking

He ran a small hotel in Tel Aviv, had a house in Jerusalem. He worked
as a small merchant. Other family members from Yemen rejoined him in
Jerusalem. He died in 1967.

3. From the current (summer 2011) Middle East Quarterly:

Review of Amal Jamal, "The Arab Public Sphere in Israel: Media Space
and Cultural Resistance," Indiana University Press, 2009, 182 pages

Reviewed by Steven Plaut, University of Haifa

My guess is that the only reason that the folks over at Indiana
University Press even published this book is that they were so excited
by the novelty of any book about Israeli Arabs written in English by a
tenured Israeli academic claiming to be an Arab. The author, Amal
Jamal, is in fact an Israeli Druse, although one of the minority of
Druse intellectuals who claim that the Druse are themselves Arab

The problems with this book begin with the title: "The Arab Public
Sphere in Israel." The book is not at all about the Arab public
sphere. It is a superficial review of the differences between the
Hebrew and Arabic media operating in Israel and of those consumers who
make use of them.

Jamal is essentially a young groupie of the fringe ideas of
Leninist Michel Foucault and the German Jurgen Habermas, the latter
someone who thinks that nice talking can solve all the world's
conflicts. Habermas refers to such nice talking as "communicative
action," a term showing up obsessively throughout Jamal's book.

A Druse from the Galilee village of Yarka, Jamal is today a radical
anti-Israel ideologue. He studied at the Hebrew University and
later got a PhD from the "Free University of Berlin." He is today a
tenured member of the political science department at Tel Aviv
University and is serving as department chairman. Many of his
publications appear in the "Journal of Palestine Studies" and similar
ideological magazines and venues, including the radical Mada al-Karmel
Center. He is involved with some leftist groups like the "New
Israel Fund," on whose board he sits.

The main part of the book, the only part even remotely "academic,"
is the middle section, in which the results of two surveys about the
use of media venues by Arabs are presented. Neither of the two
surveys was particularly scientific, neither scientifically
representative of the population. The first consisted of interviewing
594 Arab "participants." The second consisted of interviewing 229
Arab politicians, professors and public figures, whom Jamal decided
speak for the Israeli Arab population. One would have expected the
survey methodology to be regarded as an embarrassment even if it were
to form the basis of an undergraduate seminar paper at Tel Aviv

The results of the surveys essentially show that Arabs read and
listen to the Hebrew media less than do Jews, who in turn listen to
and follow the Arabic media less than do Arabs. This conclusion is
not only trivial but teaches nothing at all useful about Israeli
society. No doubt few Canadian English speakers read and listen to
the French media in Canada, and fewer Anglos in Florida read the
Spanish press.

But Jamal is not content with printing a few tables and statistics
taken from his surveys. His real aim throughout the book is to twist
things obsessively to conform to his conspiracist take on Israeli
society, according to which Israel is plotting to control the minds of
its Arab citizens (referred to throughout the book by Jamal as
"Israeli Palestinians") and to subjugate them by means of media
control. Pity the poor reader who does not realize that Israel does
not control any of the country's Arabic media.

Jamal's agenda is apparent everywhere in the book in his choices
of rhetoric. The secondary title of the book is "Media Space and
Cultural Resistance." The book overflows with bias and anti-Israel
bile. With no sense of his own self-contradiction, Jamal insists that
Israel is obsessed with control of the Arab media, with surveillance
over it, and also with ignoring Arab opinion and the Arabic media
altogether. He sees the media in general not as institutions that
reflect public opinion, but rather as those that control thinking and
opinion. He uses the term "hegemonial" with obsessive regularity.
Israel has a "ferocious military government" (p.47), engaged in
"cultural imperialism" (p. 96) via its "media policy" against its
"Palestinian" minority.

Now the book is most notable for what it is attempting to hide.
As it turns out, Israel is the only place in the Middle East where
Arabs enjoy a free press, so free it is often openly seditious. The
Israeli media, except for a TV station and some radio stations, is all
private sector. There IS no "media policy" in Israel at all, and the
private-sector Israeli Hebrew media are predominantly leftist. And if
the free Arabic press in Israel is not free enough for Jamal's tastes,
the explosion of internet technology and countless Arab blogs make his
conspiracist pseudo-academic nonsense about "control of the media" and
"mind control through the media" simply laughable.

Jamal's book is an ideological assault against Israel disguised as
an academic exploration of the Arabic media inside Israel. By hiding
from his readers that Israel's Arabic media are the only Arabic media
in the Middle East that are NOT controlled by the regime, he does his
readers an injustice and makes a mockery of his academic pretensions.

Nowhere in his book can one find references to the fact that
Arabs and Druse inside Israel are themselves beneficiaries of numerous
affirmative action preferences. One can only see possible evidence of
affirmative action in the decision by Indiana University Press to
publish this book in the first place and in the decision of Tel Aviv
University to grant Jamal tenure.

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