Friday, April 30, 2004

I can't say that I found this article in Salon about anti-semitism and the European left particularly scintillating, but it got me thinking. According to the article, leftist groups are trying to crack down on anti-semitic rhetoric by setting certain limits on acceptable criticism of Israel. I'm not sure exactly who gets to set these limits, but on some level this seems to me to be a pretty good idea. Like a lot of anti-Zionist Jews (not to mention people of any religion or ethnicity who are bothered by bigotry), I'm frequently disturbed by some strains of pro-Palestinian rhetoric. Just not the strains that everyone else seems to be disturbed by.

When people talk about the limits of legitimate criticism of Israel, the most common boundary they set is that it's unacceptable to challenge Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. And to me, that's perverse. I don't accept Israel's right to be a Jewish state, not because I have some special hang-up about Israel, but because I don't think that's how states are supposed to work. States are supposed to exist for the benefit of all of their citizens, regardless of ethnicity. Once they become designated as the special property of particular ethnic groups they always, in my opinion, become oppressive. Full citizenship will always be reserved for members of the state-owning group, and everyone else will always be reduced to a sort of permanent outsider status. Since it's impossible to have ethnically-homogeneous states in the modern world, I don't think ethnic nationalism is ever an acceptable basis for any polity. And I'm not about to exempt Israel from basic standards of civilized behavior.

So if I think it's perfectly ok to say that Israel shouldn't exist as a Jewish state, what statements do I think should be off-limits? Let's see:

1. It's never ok to condone, justify, or minimize killing anyone. It's never ok to treat dead civilians as collateral damage. It's never ok to point to a death on one side as if it offsets the death of someone on the other. It's never ok to suggest that someone had it coming, whether it's because she's a settler or a member of the IDF or a member of Hamas.

Of course, in the U.S., you hear this sort of minimizing rhetoric applied to dead Palestinians far more often than to dead Israelis. But it's wrong either way.

2. Israeli Jews have a right to live in Israel, and people should avoid rhetoric that suggests otherwise. I repeat what I said above: states belong to their citizens, not to particular ethnic groups. Israel isn't the G-d-given possession of the Jewish people, but it isn't the sole possession of the Palestinians, either. It's important to avoid that sort of primordialist rhetoric, no matter whom it refers to. Anyone who has a historical connection to Israel, either because they live there now or because their families were kicked out fifty-odd years ago, has some sort of claim to the place.

3. On a related note, it's not useful to refer to Israeli Jews as "colonizers" or to perpetuate the fiction that Israel is just another colonial project. It's fundamentally dishonest to discuss Israel without referring to the specific history of oppression which caused many Jews turn to Zionism. Specifically, it's important to remember that Zionism was originally a response to European ethnic nationalism, which defined Jews out of the nations in which they lived. Jews turned to Zionism as an act of desperation, after it became clear that the only way they'd ever be able to earn full citizenship anywhere would be to found their own ethnic state. And honestly, there's something a little galling about European leftists who rail against Israeli "colonialism" without acknowledging the ways in which their own countries' racialist ideologies, going back to at least the 1890s, contributed to the growth of Zionism.

4. It's awfully easy to be righteously indignant when you're sitting in relative safety in Paris, London or New York. I'm not suggesting that we compromise on basic principals, but it wouldn't kill anyone to try to muster some compassion for people facing terror and uncertainty unlike anything I've ever confronted. The Israelis I know are decent people trying to deal with an unbelievably difficult situation. There's really no reason to demonize them.

Look at that: an entire post that does not mention the VRC! I was beginning to think that I was incapable of thinking about anything else.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

First post!

Ok, so I've come to the conclusion that I'm actually not dealing very well with my Very Rare Condition. (The Very Rare Condition will be refered to as the VRC from here on out.) I really thought I was coping, but I'm not. And the thing is, I badly want to be a brave little soldier; I really want to be the good, strong trooper who confronts all challenges with admirable self-sufficiency and grace. And I'm not. I'm barely keeping it together. I'm having a hard time admitting that I'm such a failure as a sick person.

So yesterday I pretty much lost it over library books. At my university, you have to renew your library books four times a year. It's not a big deal: you go the library web page, punch in your bar code, hit renew, and you're good to go. It's only a hassle if you forget to do it. In that case, you have to physically bring all your library books back to the library and check them in before you can check anything out. And I, of course, being a moron and also being preoccupied with the VRC, forgot to renew my library books.

The main symptom of the VRC is vertigo, which means that I feel like I'm moving even when I'm not. Sometimes I feel like I'm spinning, and sometimes it's more of a wave-like sensation. Right now, I'm sitting on my desk chair, and I feel like I'm in a row-boat in the middle of the ocean. I can't drive when I have vertigo, and lately even walking has started to be a bit of a challenge. It's really hard to orient myself in space: the ground isn't always where I expect it to be. Needless to say, this makes it a challenge to cart around library books.

So like the innocent I am, I thought I'd explain the situation to the circulation people, and they'd make an exception and renew my library books without making me bring them back. Only the guy refused. He swore that it was physically impossible, but then he asked why I hadn't renewed my library books on time, seemed unimpressed when I said I'd been distracted by being sick, and pointed out that I didn't live that far from the library. I said it was pretty far to carry in 24 books, and he said I could bring them in one or two at a time. I'm not sure what the point of that whole exercise was if it really was impossible to override the system, and I was a little appalled by the entire exchange, but I decided that I really didn't have a good excuse for forgetting to renew the library books and that I'd be a brave little soldier. So I went home, gathered up my 24 library books, put them in my roommate's shopping cart, and took them back to the library.

It turns out that I am not, in my present state, capable of pushing a shopping cart. At least, I'm not capable of pushing a shopping cart full of books a half a mile over uneven pavement. After struggling all the way there, I finally fell on my ass a half a block from the library, spilling my books all over the sidewalk. (This occurred, incidentally, directly in front of an elementary school. And I have to say that a couple of kids who looked about eight displayed a hell of a lot more compassion for my predicament than anybody at my university's library ever did.) But I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and got the damn books back to the library.

I unloaded all my books at circulation, and the kid there checked them all in. But there was a problem: I'd brought back 24 books, but one of them was from a different library, so I was missing a book. And I couldn't check them back out again until I'd physically returned all of my books. So the kid told me that I'd have to leave my books on 24-hour hold, go home, find my other book, bring it back, and then I could check out my books again. At which point I pretty much started bawling.

So to make a long story short, I couldn't find the book, and I've declared it lost and written a check for it. I can't afford to replace it, and I'm sure it's in my apartment somewhere, but at that point I was so frustrated that I'd have done anything to get my damn books and leave. And I called a friend to come with her car and cart me and my books home, which is really what I should have done in the first place. But I'm just incredibly sick of calling in favors. I'm tired of asking people to do things for me. It's humiliating, and I'm starting to feel pathetic.

Incidentally, I was all set to go to my university's disability office and have a little chat with them about the obnoxious library staff, but it turns out that I can't do that, because my university doesn't have an office for disabled students. If you are disabled, you are supposed to make an appointment with your dean to discuss accommodations. The only problem with that is that I don't want accommodations: I just want the assholes at library circulation to behave like human beings. And it would be nice if I could get some backup on this without having to explain all of my medical issues to the dean.

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