LONGREADS OF THE YEAR: January-March 2013
“The Death of the Party”, by Michael Cohen, Tablet, January 10, 2013.
But for all that Yachimovich does, it is what she doesn’t do that has garnered so much ill will, particularly in the run-up to the Jan. 22 election. During this campaign, she has given no major speeches or comments about the occupation, about Iran, about the Arab Spring, about the future of the settlements, and so on. Unless she is asked, she has practically nothing to say about any of these issues. In her political manifesto titled Us she remarkably makes no mention of the issues that have been at the heart of Israeli politics since the country’s founding. It is the most startling element of her rise to power: She is the head of a party long associated with the vision of a two-state solution and yet has nothing to say about the existential questions that will shape Israel’s future. When asked about how she would bring about peace with the Palestinians, Yachimovich regularly mouths the platitude that she supports the Clinton Parameters from more than 12 years ago—but not much else.
“The Party Faithful”, by David Remnick, The New Yorker, January 21, 2013.
Much of Naftali Bennett’s support comes from mild-mannered religious suburbanites on both sides of the Green Line, but he has also been blessed by some of the more vehement fundamentalists on the scene. Avichai Rontzki, from 2006 to 2010 the chief rabbi of the I.D.F. and now the head of a yeshiva in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, helped Bennett form the Jewish Home Party. Rontzki has said that soldiers who show their enemies mercy will be “damned,” and, after a prisoner exchange with the Palestinians that he opposed, he said that the I.D.F. should no longer arrest terrorists but, rather, “kill them in their beds.” Dov Lior, the chief rabbi of the settlement of Kiryat Arba and Hebron, once called Baruch Goldstein “holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust”; he endorsed Bennett before moving on to a smaller, more reactionary party.
“Israel’s Alaska, the Golan, stays calms amid the gathering storm”, by Mitch Ginsburg, The Times of Israel, February 20, 2013.
Khallas and his wife Michal – they get along far better than their biblical namesakes – settled in the Golan Heights in the summer of 2006. When they arrived there was still talk of land for peace. Both of them moved knowing there was a certain chance they would be uprooted. Since then, they have brought two children into the world and acquired a dog. They have built their house with their own hands. They have helped invigorate a wizened HaShomer HaTzair kibbutz, creating a thriving secular and religious community in its place. And so, when it came time to choose their 30-dunam plot for agriculture, a gift of the government, they considered the virtues of tangerines over olives and of different soil types but never gave any thought at all to Syria.
“I didn’t think about the border at all. There were 40 years of absolute quiet here,” said Khallas. “It was the quietest place in the country.”
Homeland: Refuting the Charge of Islamophobia
I started watching “Homeland” because I was bored. All of my favorite shows were coming to a (season’s) end, and I needed something new to watch. I’m drawn to smart scripted dramas, but I was immediately suspicious of the show when I learned that its creators were also the ones behind “24,” the Fox drama that somehow became the chief piece of evidence for the effectiveness of torture and was a favorite of Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh. But I kept an open mind and was riveted by the first episode, which laid out the intriguing mystery: Is Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody the POW who’s been turned against his country by al-Qaida and its leader, the nefarious Abu Nazir? Soon CIA agent Carrie Mathison is seen spying on Brody and family in scenes reminiscent of the Stasi’s voyeurism in the Academy Award-winning film “The Lives of Others.” But as we learn more about Brody’s back story, the plot becomes increasingly absurd and insidiously Islamophobic. All the standard stereotypes about Islam and Muslims are reinforced, and it is demonstrated ad nauseam that anyone marked as “Muslim” by race or creed can never be trusted, all via the deceptively unsophisticated bureau-jargon of the government’s top spies.
Now, naturally, any television show about the modern war on terror in the Middle East is going to have Middle Eastern terrorists, both Arab and Muslim.Homeland certainly has those. But what’s remarkable about the show is how many non-Arab and non-Muslim villains it features, including in the highest echelons of the US government and its security agencies. Most notably, there is the corrupt Vice President William Walden (Jamey Sheridan), who publicly lies about a drone strike that killed 83 children to further his political career and ultra-hawkish foreign policy, and the CIA counter-terrorism director David Estes (David Harewood) who helps him cover it up. In a conspiracy worthy of the feverish imagination of America’s worst foes, the two even plot to assassinate Brody, who has knowledge of the strike, to prevent their wrongdoing from coming to light.
In other words, the show questions the security state, reveals the horrific collateral damage of America’s drone program, and pointedly demonstrates how such unaccountable power can lead to corruption. In episode after episode, monochromatic moral thinking—an “us or them” mentality—is shown to be the true villain, rather than one particular nationality or ethnic group.
Part of the genius of Homeland is that by making an All-American war hero into a terrorist, it does exactly the opposite of what al-Arian condemns: Homeland challenges the stereotypes of who is a terrorist. Brody’s conversion to Islam is a red herring. Islam, itself, is a red herring. If the show was Islamophobic, Brody’s martyr tape would focus on Islam. It does not even mention the word Islam. Instead, Brody explicitly states political reasons for his terrorism: “This is about justice for 82 children whose deaths were never acknowledged and whose murder is a stain on the soul of this nation.”
Homeland also challenges conventional notions of terrorism by forcing the viewer to confront terrorists who are morally and emotionally complex, who struggle not only with mundane issues but also with fundamental moral questions of whether terrorism is actually ever justified. These larger, more fundamental themes, however, were totally lost on al-Arian.
Read both ripostes in full: