Clinton Square (Syracuse)

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Big banks and a Soldier and Sailors Monument stamp public, civic space in downtown Syracuse. Massive and monumental in style, the banks were built in the last decade or two of the 19th century, straddling the Erie Canal as it cut through the city. The war memorial was built in 1910.  The canal was paved over in the 1920s and turned into Erie Blvd, which preserves the straight line of the waterway. Redesigned in 2001, Clinton Square includes the reflecting pool, a memorial of sort, a remnant of the once mighty canal that once drove the economic life of the town and Central New York, when the town and region was still prosperous.

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Erie Canal Walk

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Once a great engine, hauling goods from New York to Buffalo through Syracuse and back, the Erie Canal has been repurposed as a site for recreation, a green lung running through the Rust Belt.

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What’s A Liberal To Do? Don’t Sign This Petition Against BDS

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Not a lot, I recognize the names of a handful of Jewish Studies colleagues under this petition against BDS, i.e. against boycotting Israeli universities; not many, some of them are friends. The petition is based on the principles of academic freedom and a two state solution to the Israel- Palestine conflict, but as a liberal Zionist, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to sign. Why not? Probably because I first saw it pushed at the Weekly Standard. Not unlike the talking points developed by conservative pollster Frank Luntz , the petition feels like another example of rightwing organizers scavenging talking points off the carcass of liberal Zionism. The petition takes out the substance from the two-state idea, leaving only the rhetoric. That’s my suspicious reading. I would have signed happily had the petition committed its signatories to a territorially viable Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders as negotiated around the Arab Peace Initiative. It didn’t, so I won’t.

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After BDS — Jewish Studies Caucus

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Members of small groups or marginalized groups used to caucus when it was considered that there were concerns specific to the group that were not going to get aired outside the group. In Talmud group, the only ones who showed up the other day were the Jewish Studies students. (Yes, at Syracuse, we have a Talmud group attended by colleagues and students outside Jewish Studies). We started talking about one student’s work in Jewish Studies and Native American Studies, about BDS, and Steven Salaita.  The student has ideas about Jews, American first nations, and Palestinians that go against the perceived wisdom. The conclusion of the larger conversation was came to that it was not a bad idea to set up a Jewish Studies Caucus. It would allow us to meet among ourselves and to focus upon and talk freely in private about topics and concerns (academic, professional, and political) particular to our work in Jewish Studies. These include conversations about Israel and Zionism. We’re going to organize the group as a reading group, and we’re starting with Shaul Magid’s book on post-ethnic Judaism and Jewishness. In my 17 or so years at Syracuse, I never felt the need for this kind of caucus-formation. Up to now, Jewish Studies at the graduate level here in the Department of Religion has been disorganized, to say the least. I’m pretty sure this type of self-organization would not have happened outside the context of pressures determined by BDS, and I think we can chalk it up as one of it’s unintended effects?

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What Polls: Liberal Zionist Hasbara By Frank Luntz

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I won’t tell you how I found this presentation, but here are the poll driven Hasbara talking-points developed by Frank Luntz: luntz-presentation-9-201. While I don’t have the energy to go through each single slide, the general impression is that the more typical knee-jerk, aggressive and defensive rightwing talking-points don’t poll well. Luntz, a rightwing operator, is suggesting what one might call liberal Zionist talking points. I think what this means is that rightwing Zionism is a dead dog on the American mainstream, that it has no pulse, and that liberal Zionism is its last redoubt. What goes unsaid here in these points developed by Luntz, of course, is not that Israel is holding “disputed territories,” but actively shutting down a political-diplomatic solution to the conflict by expanding settlements.

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A Kind of Community — Jews, Arabs, Palestine, Israel

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Community is a group with people you despise, defined by a common center of concern and care. Between the leftwing Israel-always-wrong crowd to the genocide wing of the Jewish right, the beautiful souls and the ugly Jews. But no matter where we are on the map, all of us are in this together, those of us who are obsessed about Israel and Palestine. Historically, politically, and morally, I do not see any way to separate contemporary Jewishness from Israel. But here’s the rub. There’s no way either to separate or modern Israel from Palestine and the modern Middle East. There are too many competing investments in that place, which operates as a moral and affective center of collective consciousness. Also obsessed about Gaza and Israel, many Arabs and Muslims, from the political moderates to the #HitlerWasRight crowd, share the same center of gravity. Like it or not, “we are very much together and in community with “them,” and “they” with “us.” I understand that for some academic critics of Israel words like “civility” and “dialogue” and even “conflict” are off the table. Maybe the rest of us together should just as well make the most of it in order to make “things” work, on the basis of human and political recognition.

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(After) The Status Quo In Israel and Palestine?

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As Larry Derfner writes here at +972, Israel seems to be settling back into the old status quo prior to what everyone is now calling the “war” in Gaza. It’s a depressing picture, to be sure, the idea that the conflict between Israel and Palestine just grinds on based on the same old rules of conflict management, the occupation of territory, and the strangulation of populations. It’s going to be my hope that Derfner misreads the situation by attending too close to the surface, where nothing seems to have changed, and that the status quo has been more deeply unsettled than he suggests. I’m putting a little hope in the emergence of new sets of political constellating not quite visible over the horizon, and that Israel will have no choice but to respond, one way or the other to changing conditions, and that this demands deciding in favor for a one state or two state solution to their conflict with Palestine. The recent refusal of reservists in an elite intelligence unit might be a sign of things to come. Derfner thinks the status quo remains unbroken, and I won’t pretend to be sure otherwise. But it “feels” broken, although I admit that perhaps what I’m reflecting upon is the discourse about Israel and Palestine over here in the United States.

But what was the old status quo and who defined it? My own sense is that, while it’s easy to spit on the grave of a two state solution as representing an old status quo idea, the actual status quo on the ground has been the one dominated by Israel and Hamas these last 14 years or so since the Second Intifada. That status quo has been an inverse mirror image of a zero-sum, one-state-solution-in-the-making, either/or, either Israel or Palestine. The recent land grab by Israel of a long and narrow strip of Palestinian territories along the Green Line in Gush Etzion looks like more of the same, while my guess is that this needless and provocative stick in Abbas’ eye was a sop to the rightwing angry that the IDF didn’t “finish the job” in Gaza. But it’s hard to imagine this summer’s fighting repeating itself in another month or two, or in another two years. Israel has run out of political-diplomatic credit and the so-called victory by Hamas, despite its spike in the polls, has done nothing to advance the Palestinian national interest. The bubble about which everyone in Israel spoke last summer is busted. And yet now, after this current round of fighting in Gaza and Israel, life supposed to go back to normal, i.e. more occupation and more “armed resistance.”

Something has to shift fundamentally, in Israel and Palestine, but, of course, it won’t. The parties will settle for more of the same, by racism, rage, violence, more international isolation and anti-Semitic animus as Israel creeps towards transforming itself into a pariah, quasi-apartheid state with an embittered Palestinian majority which turns increasingly towards a leadership offering as compensation self-destructive fits of resistance that only bring death, destruction, and political-diplomatic isolation upon its own people. In other words, more of the old status quo based on mutual rejection intermixed with attempts by Israel and Hamas to “manage the conflict” with short term truces. One would like to think that, instead of this, this old status quo has to give way to new cognitive and political models based on mutual recognition and genuine understanding, peace and justice, compromise and integration.

Each year, the conflict gets worse, reaching a new low this summer with the kidnapping and murder in cold blood of teenagers. The current bloodshed in Gaza, the incapacity or unwillingness of Israel to “finish the job,” and what will very likely turn out to be the inability of Hamas to lift the siege of Gaza or end the occupation of the West Bank all bring us back to basics: [1] There’s no military or armed resistance solution to the conflict in any of its aspects. [2] Based on delusions, the old status quo is going to continue to fracture both societies from within, getting people killed [3] Negotiations that are meant to lead nowhere need finally give way to actual political agreements based on the principle of 2 states for 2 people while [4] simultaneously integrating the two states and its peoples into close and common cultural, economic, and political frameworks, perhaps into some kind of consortium.

While this may sound naïve, it’s no less impractical than a return to the status quo ante. Israel can’t depend only on itself and brute force. No state does. Even the security bubble has probably popped. Security depends upon alliances (with Egypt, PA, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia), in this case, one which will impose a new order on the region, determine Israel’s eastern border, lift the siege of Gaza, rebuild a demilitarized Gaza under some kind of PA auspices with or without international supervision, create a viable and prosperous State of Palestine alongside which Israel can enjoy security and peace, meaning normalization and integration of Israel into the region and Palestine into the community of nations. There’s no indication that any of this lies on the horizon, so it sounds Pollyannaish. But one should consider the violent dead end that every other option based on this or that variant of the old one-state-in-the-making status quo has led the parties to the conflict, including occupation, deluxe occupation, creeping apartheid, armed resistance, and military violence.

I can’t speak about and for Palestine and the discourse about Palestine. I don’t know in any intimate way the discourse and dialogue. But re: Israel I can sense something a little different, at least in terms of the terms by which we understand its cultural constitution. An important emblem of the old status quo for liberal Zionism is the idea that Israel constitutes a polity and a culture that is “Jewish and democratic.” Maybe it’s enough to settle for Jewish culture and a democratic Israel, assuming that “Jewish” is folded into and implied by the name Israel, folded into the demographic constitution of Israel inside the Green Line as a simple Jewish majority state, marked out by the rhythm of the week and calendar year, it cultural and civic life. The “Jewish” should be allowed to take care of itself, apart from the apparatus of the state. This would mean that Israel is a “state of the Jews” as envisioned by Herzl, not a “Jewish state” as per Ahad Ha’am, and maybe it would be easier to integrate the state of the Jews into the larger and so badly fractured region that is the modern Middle East.

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