Monday, December 19, 2011

Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong-il

 The deaths of these two leaders--one despised around the world, the other admired--are linked in ways that might not be immediately obvious. Havel argued that the "victims" of authoritarian Communism were, to a large degree, complicit in their own oppression and lack of freedom; they accepted the status quo for decades even though they had the power to change things. The Arab Spring is a latter-day example of how right Havel was about that.

Now pundits and analysts are pondering what will happen in North Korea now that Kim Jong-il is dead. Will his young son have the credibility and support necessary to avoid a possibly bloody battle for leadership? Will the people rise up and say enough is enough? If they don't, and if the transition is smooth and uneventful, North Koreans won't have anyone to blame but themselves. Indeed, as Havel so rightly pointed out, not everyone wants to be free so badly that they are willing to take serious risks for their liberty.

What tips the balance? When does yesterday's complacency give way to today's revolutions? If we understood that better, we might be able to control our destinies instead of letting others control them for us.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Israel has never been so ugly

Of late the "Jewish state" has been showing a face that many American Jews might not want to recognize: Racist, anti-democratic, and even terrorist. Writing in Haaretz, columnist Ari Shavit sums up the country's current mood, and places the blame squarely on its leaders. 

A few excerpts, but please click the link and read the whole thing:

We have never been so ugly. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhu seeks to silence the call to prayer over the loudspeakers of the country's mosques, and to shut down Channel 10 television. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman expresses support for the Russian "democtator" who has just rigged elections. Defense Minister Ehud Barak stands by while Jewish settlers victimize Palestinians and ultra-Orthodox religious nationalists victimize female soldiers...

There has never been such a comprehensive attempt to remake the face of Israel and to replace it with something else. Under Netanyahu and Lieberman's leadership, Israel been turned into a country with the values of Newt Gingrich and the look of Vladimir Putin. What's happening here? And why now exactly? Why are anti-democratic forces at work now to run roughshod over human rights and human dignity and freedom? Why are the Jewish nationalists and ultra-Orthodox fanatics, along with Russian statism, bursting forth now all at the same time?

The answer, Shavit says, is Netanyahu. But I'm not sure it's that simple. Israeli voters have been endorsing their nation's right-wing politicians with increasing fervor in recent years, and it's safe to assume at this point that Israel's leadership reflects the increasingly warped viewpoints of the majority of its citizens. This move to the extreme right could not be possible without the complicity of a large number of American Jews, who have long turned blind eyes--innocently or not--to the oppression and human rights violations of the nation that claims to speak for all Jews everywhere. It's time for that to stop. Indeed, there are now plenty of signs that it is stopping, as more and more American Jews join groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Photo: Torched mosque in Tuba Zangaria/Avihu Shapira