Israel Anti-Zionism Anti-Semitism (Obama Interview)


1+1=2. That is to say that it is the ability to think two thoughts that are in tension which is what impressed me the most about President Obama’s remarks about Israel and Zionism and anti-Semitism in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, which you can read here. Posting two of these below, I flipped the order of these two paragraphs as they appeared in the interview. I did so because I want to put the emphasis here on the relation between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism as presented by the President. As Goldberg opined, President Obama turns out to be something of a “liberal Zionism.”

On the one hand: “But you should be able to say to Israel, we disagree with you on this particular policy. We disagree with you on settlements. We think that checkpoints are a genuine problem. We disagree with you on a Jewish-nationalist law that would potentially undermine the rights of Arab citizens. And to me, that is entirely consistent with being supportive of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Now for someone in Israel, including the prime minister, to disagree with those policy positions—that’s OK too. And we can have a debate, and we can have an argument. But you can’t equate people of good will who are concerned about those issues with somebody who is hostile towards Israel.”

On the other hand: “You know, I think a good baseline is: Do you think that Israel has a right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people, and are you aware of the particular circumstances of Jewish history that might prompt that need and desire? And if your answer is no, if your notion is somehow that that history doesn’t matter, then that’s a problem, in my mind. If, on the other hand, you acknowledge the justness of the Jewish homeland, you acknowledge the active presence of anti-Semitism—that it’s not just something in the past, but it is current—if you acknowledge that there are people and nations that, if convenient, would do the Jewish people harm because of a warped ideology. If you acknowledge those things, then you should be able to align yourself with Israel where its security is at stake, you should be able to align yourself with Israel when it comes to making sure that it is not held to a double standard in international fora, you should align yourself with Israel when it comes to making sure that it is not isolated.”

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Anti-Israel & Anti-Semitic In An Inside Space of the Public Sphere


It’s one thing for neo-Nazis to have the right to march through the streets of Skokie, but I’m wondering what my friends further to the left think about the following scenario. A local civic group brings in a speaker to the inside space of a local public institution, let’s say a library, where the speaker will deliver a talk that veers from anti-Israel activism into rank anti-Semitism. The speaker has established a pattern of doing so in the past. Do you protest the event before the event, to exercise your own right to free speech and criticism, if not to try to get the event cancelled? Do you go the event and push back? Or do you protest the event after the fact, as a way to confront not the speaker, whose views are incorrigible, but the poor people who allowed the event to happen at their institution, unaware what they were bringing in. Or do we just say that this is free speech, meaning that unregulated and unpopular speech like anti-Semitism and racism have a protected and rightful place in an inside space in the public sphere?

Without going into particulars, I’m thinking of a speaker who spoke in a public forum warning that American Jews are “traitors,” who spoke at length of Jewish Zionist secret clubs and cabals in America, past and present, who claimed that Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis was a secret Zionist agent, and that Jews past and present are in control of the US media and the US government. Also claimed was that American Jews pushed the US into the First World War, having made a deal with Great Britain –give us the Balfour Declaration and we’ll give you the US to fight a war. It was claimed that Jews were responsible for killing all those American soldiers. That was just some of what was said about American Jews. About Israeli Jews, they were basically compared to Nazis.

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Sasanian Faces (Babylonian Talmud)


At the Met the other day, I liked these Sasanian faces. Just playing around with the image, I’d like to superimpose them on the Babylonian Talmud. Hammered out of a single sheet of silver, this guy above is obviously a king, 4th century CE. Could this be Shapur II or Shapur III. About the guy below, he seems more pleasant; he might be a worshipper. Even though he’s Parthian, 1st or 2nd century CE, still maybe these are what a rabbi might have looked like over there back then.


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Religious & Political Lives of Indian Images (Richard H. Davis)


A super awesome book, I’m not sure how I stumbled upon this one. Maybe maybe it was upon the recommendation of my nephew who went to Bard, where Richard H. Davis teaches. Less devoted to aesthetics per se, Lives of Indian Images has us look in each chapter at one particular image biographically. The life of an image is related to place, the way images are tied to place, removed from place, restored to place across all the violent disruptions that mark historical time. The dislocation of images includes the fate of images as war booty between competing Hindu courts, the late medieval (?) Muslim conquests, when, at times, images were either destroyed  by invaders or secreted away by their devotees; or during British colonial rule when religious images get bought and sold on the international art market.

There’s a lot of good material here on museum studies relating to the place of religious icons and other objects, and the tensions involving the transition between their cult value and exhibition value, the transformation of “idols” into art objects in the late 19th century and 20th century west, their fragmentation and framing by the museum, theological and ritual versus humanistic and aesthetic orientations, and vexed legal questions regarding their repatriation.

The lens through which Davis considers the lives of Indian images follows the politically rough and tumble, while at the same time respecting and maintaining the strong sense that these lives are bound up metaphysically and theologically. Citing Roland Barthes, Davis notes that the first order theological signification of an image as paired with an embodied notion of deity is not lost, but is rather augmented or enhanced by a secondary signification as a political signifier (pp.64-8). Complementary in perspective, neither of these lived aspect cancels out the other. The one does “transfer” over into the other, as theorized in some contemporary works of political theology.

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Domestic Little Linga


On display at the Met, a neat little linga, made of stone, 8th century or earlier, from Jammu and Kashmir, an aniconic embodiment of Lord Shiva. I like its diminutive features. It often gets forgotten by people in the west that this kind of aniconic figure represents the essence of Saivan ritual art. According to Wikipedia, the particular form of Kashmir Saivism is a householder religion.

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Randall’s Island Wetland & Triboro Bridge


With about an hour to kill before Costco opened, we walked our way onto and around Randall’s Island, where we stumbled upon this restored bit of wetland created by the NYC Parks Department. The wetland runs right under the Triboro Bridge. Built in 1937, the bridge assumes the big rusty look of something like an urban relic when viewed from the green below.

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(Delightful, Fine, Elegant, Brilliant, Extensive, and Pleasant) Merv (Abbasid Empire)


Reading up a little about the Abbasid Caliphate, I was charmed by the historical memory of cosmopolitan Merv. In modern day Turkmenistan, it was once a major seat of Islamic power in the Persian cultural east. It did not seem to survive very well the Mongol invasions. The photograph of these ruins give a sense of the monumental scale of what once was. I’m lifting this information from the Merv wikipedia site:

After the Sassanid Ardashir I (220–240 AD) took Merv, the study of numismatics picks up the thread: a long unbroken direct Sassanian rule of almost four centuries is documented from the unbroken series of coins originally minted at Merv. During this period Merv was home to practitioners of various religions beside the official Sassanid Zoroastrianism, including BuddhistsManichaeans, and Christians of the Church of the East

Merv reached renewed importance in February 748 when the Iranian general Abu Muslim (d. 755) declared a new Abbasid dynasty at Merv, expanding and re-founding the city, and, in the name of the Abbasid line, used the city as a base of rebellion against the Umayyad caliphate. After the Abbasids were established in Baghdad Abu Muslim continued to rule Merv as a semi-independent prince until his eventual assassination.

Indeed, Merv was the center of Abbasid partisanship for the duration of the Abbasid revolution, and later on became a consistent source of political support for the Abbasid rulers in Baghdad, and the governorship of Khurasan at Merv was considered one of the most important political figures of the Caliphate. The influential Barmakid family was based in Merv and played an important part in transferring Greek knowledge (established in Merv since the days of the Seleucids and Greco-Bactrians) into the Arab world.

Throughout the Abbasid era, Merv remained the capital and most important city of Khurasan. During this time, the Arab historian Al-Muqaddasi called Merv ‘delightful, fine, elegant, brilliant, extensive, and pleasant.'”

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