Sunday, May 24, 2015

Where Courage Speaks

The brave ones, the resistors, the refusers, Israelis who cling to shreds of hope, to threads of inclusive human connection because we have seen what happens when others deemed not fully human become the disappeared of a conquering State.

Uri Avney's Column, 23/05/15

THE BATTLE is over. The dust has settled. A new government – partly ridiculous, partly terrifying – has been installed.

It is time to take stock.
The net result is that Israel has given up all pretense of desiring peace and that Israeli democracy has suffered a blow from which it may never recover.
ISRAELI GOVERNMENTS – with the possible exception of Yitzhak Rabin's – have never really desired peace. The peace that is possible.
Peace, of course, means accepting fixed borders. In the founding declaration of the state, which was read out by David Ben-Gurion on May 14, 1948 in Tel Aviv, any mention of borders was deliberately omitted. Ben Gurion was not ready to accept the borders fixed by the UN partition resolution, because they provided only for a tiny Jewish state. Ben-Gurion foresaw that the Arabs would start a war, and he was determined to use this for enlarging the territory of the state.
This indeed happened. When the war ended in early 1949 with armistice agreements based on the final battle lines, Ben-Gurion could have accepted them as final borders. He refused. Israel has remained a state without borders that it recognizes itself – perhaps the only one in the world.
This is one of the reasons for the fact that Israel has no peace agreement with the Palestinian nation. It did sign official peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, based on the internationally recognized borders between the former British government of Palestine and its neighbors. No such borders are accepted by the Israeli government between Israel and the undefined Palestinian entity. All Israeli governments have always refused even to indicate where such borders should run. The much-praised Oslo agreement was no exception. Rabin, too, refused to draw a final line.
This refusal remains government policy. On the eve of the recent elections, Binyamin Netanyahu unequivocally declared that during his term of office – which for him means until his demise – no Palestinian state would come into being. Thus, the occupied territories would remain under Israeli rule.
No peace agreement will ever be signed by this government.
NO PEACE means attempting to keep the territorial status quo frozen forever, except that settlements will continue to grow and multiply.
This is not the situation concerning democracy. It is not frozen.
Israel is famously "the Only Democracy in the Middle East". That is practically its second official name.
It is debatable how a state that dominates another people, depriving it of all human rights, not to mention citizenship, can be called a democracy. But Jewish Israelis have been used to this for 48 years, and just ignore this fact.
Now the situation inside Israel proper is about to change drastically.
Two facts attest to this.
First of all, Ayelet Shaked has been appointed Minister of Justice. One of the most extreme right-wing Israelis, she has not made a secret of the fact that she wants to destroy the independence of the Supreme Court, the last bastion of human rights.
This court has managed, throughout the years, to become a major force in Israeli life. Since Israel has no written constitution, the Supreme Court has succeeded, under strong and determined leadership, in assuming the role of the guardian of human and civil rights, even annulling democratically adopted Knesset laws that contradict the imagined constitution.
Shaked has announced that she would put an end to this impertinence.
The court has survived many onslaughts because its composition cannot be easily changed. Contrary to the practice in the US, which looks scandalous to us, judges are appointed by a committee, in which politicians are held in check by incumbent judges. Shaked wants to change this practice, stuffing the committee with politicians loyal to the government.
The court is already cowed. Lately it has made a number of ignoble decisions, such as outlawing calls for boycotting the settlements. But this is still heaven compared to what is bound to happen in the near future.
PERHAPS WORSE is Netanyahu's decision to retain for himself the Ministry of Communication.
This ministry has always been disdained as a low-level office, reserved for political lightweights. Netanyahu's dogged insistence on retaining it for himself is ominous.
The communication Ministry controls all TV stations, and indirectly newspapers and other media. Since all Israeli media are in very bad shape financially, this control may become deadly.
Netanyahu's patron – some say owner – Sheldon Adelson, the would-be dictator of the US Republican party, already publishes a give-away newspaper in Israel, which has only one sole aim: to support Netanyahu personally against all enemies, including his competitors in his own Likud party. The paper – "Israel Hayom" (Israel Today) – is already Israel's widest-circulation newspaper, with the American casino king pouring into it untold millions.
Netanyahu is determined to break all opposition in the electronic and written media. Opposition commentators are well advised to look for jobs elsewhere. Channel 10, considered slightly more critical of Netanyahu than its two competitors, is due to be closed at the end of this month.
One cannot avoid an odious analogy. One of the key terms in the Nazi lexicon was the atrocious German word Gleichschaltung – meaning connecting all media to the same energy source. All newspapers and radio stations (TV did not yet exist) were staffed with Nazis. Every morning, a Propaganda Ministry official by the name of Dr. Dietrich convened the editors and told them what tomorrow's headlines, editorials etc. were to be.
Netanyahu has already dismissed the chief of the TV department. We don't yet know the name of our own Dr. Dietrich.
As a humorous counterpoint, Miri Regev has been appointment Minister of Culture. Regev is a loud-mouthed woman, whose vulgar style has become a national symbol. No one can even guess how she had become the army spokesperson. Her style, such as concluding every public utterance with the call "Applause!", has become a joke.
THE MOST efficient instrument of de-democratization is the education ministry (which is not efficient in anything else.)
Israel has several education systems, all of them financed – and hence controlled – by the Education Ministry.
Two systems belong to the government outright: the general "state" system and the autonomous "religious state" system.
Then there are two orthodox systems, one Ashkenazi and one Oriental. In some of these, only religious subjects are taught – no languages, no mathematics, no non-Jewish history. This makes alumni unfit for any employment. They remain dependent on their religious community's handouts forever.
Before the state came into being, there was also a leftist system with socialist values, especially in the kibbutzim. This was abolished by David Ben-Gurion in the name of "statism".
The last government tried in a timid way to compel the orthodox to introduce "core studies" into their schools, such as arithmetic and English. This has been abandoned now, since the orthodox have become members of the government coalition.
The real battle, which is starting now, is about the "general" state schools, which have been free to some extent. My late wife, Rachel, was a teacher in such a school for almost 30 years, and did what she wanted, trying to instill in her pupils' minds humanist and liberal values.
Not any more. Israel's most extreme nationalist-religious leader, Naftali Bennett, has now been installed as Minister of Education. He has already announced that his main objective is to imbue the young with a nationalist-Zionist spirit, raising a generation of real Israeli patriots. No mention of humanism, liberalism, human rights, social values or any other such nonsense.
Netanyahu has also retained the Foreign Ministry in his own hands. Many of its functions have been dispersed between six other ministries. The pretext is that Netanyahu is keeping the prestigious ministry open for Labor Party leader Yitzhak Herzog, who he is pretending to invite into the government. Herzog has already loudly refused. (I suppose that the real owner of the government, Sheldon Adelson, would not allow him in anyway.)
Netanyahu's real aim is to prevent any potential competitor from gaining international and national prestige in this position. He does conduct foreign policy alone anyhow.
ALTOGETHER, A deeply troubling picture for anyone who loves Israel.
It is not so much that the balance of power in Israel has changed (it has not) but that the worst elements of the Right have taken over, pushing out almost all right-wing moderates. Until now, these extreme elements had been subdued, talking loudly but carrying a small stick. This has now changed. The extreme right has found its self-assurance, and is determined to use its power.
The Israeli Left (timidly calling itself "center-left") has lost its spirit. Its only hope is "foreign pressure". Especially from the White House. Barack Obama hates Netanyahu. Any time now, American pressure will be applied and save Israel from itself.
That's a comfortable thought. We don't have to do anything. Salvation will come from the outside, deus ex machina. Halleluja.
Unfortunately, I am a non-believer. What I see is the US increasing its support of the Netanyahu regime, offering huge new arms deliveries as "compensation" for the budding Iran nuclear deal. John Kerry, humiliated by Netanyahu and treated with open contempt, is groveling somewhere at our feet. Obama boasts that he has done more for "Israel" (meaning the Israeli Right) than any other president.
Salvation will not come from that direction. God will remain in the machine.
THERE IS only one kind of salvation: the one we carry inside us.
Some hope for a catastrophe that will cause people to open their eyes. I don’t wish for catastrophes.
I don't want Israel to become a replica of al-Sisi's Egypt, Erdogan's Turkey or Putin's Russia.
I believe we can save Israel - but only if we get up from the couch and play our part.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Thank you, Robert Giard

Thank you, Robert Giard, so many years ago for keeping this woman's body alive as part of lesbian history, as part of Jewish history, as part of the history of protesting bodies. Deep in reading "If This is a Woman: Inside Ravensbruck: Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women" by Sarah Helm, the history of so many stigmatized bodies deemed unworthy to live and the courage of resistance. Whore, lesbian, Jew. And now so many other bodies deemed not worthy of life. Refuse, always, refuse dictated hatreds, unbreakable borders, ordained deaths at sea, behind walls, in broken streets. Stand together, the pariahs, the unwanted, stand together for the soft swell of our human, women's selves.

To see the legacy of Giard's work, his profound and beautiful portraits of queer writers which includes all of us, go to the Robert Giard Foundation website.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Lover's Voice, Ravensbruck and The Great Migration--the Beginning of my 75th Year

"The presto continues - am writing from Dubai - just one more flight. I rang you from the plane before leaving Heathrow (twice), but you couldn't hear me. I am so sorry if I worried you - but all is fine.
Love love love..."

Now reversing her journey, La Professoressa moves through continents and time zones, leaving before she departs. Cello will wag his tail off, knowing the only reason we are waiting at the gate at 6:30 in the morning is because Di, his running companion and great love, is coming home. A privilege of life this love, this letting go and welcoming home for as long as we have in life.
Di welcoming friends to our home, with an image from Jacob Lawence's Migration Series Behind Her

While my darling was away, I turned 75 and so many of you wrote and wished me well. I am trying to answer all, but what became so clear to me as I read your words, was how much so many of you have given me over all these years, of how we struggled together for more sexual and gender freedoms, for more inclusive histories, for women's full social and economic dignity, for an end to repressive regimes of nationalisms, for borders not of stone but markers of our human care, one for the other, for an end to the rule of racism and the dictatorship of profit no matter the human cost.

Two offers of the imagination have my complete attention now: Sarah Helm's "Ravensbruck: Life and Death in Hitler's concentration Camp for Women" and since I cannot see the exhibit in New York, the catalogue for Jacob Lawrence's "Great Migration" Exhibit. Both too huge portraits of our failures and our resistance to speak of now, but if these are the last documents of history I read in my life, it will be enough.

My darling, I await you.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Words from Sarajevo

May 7, 2015

"I spent all day wandering around Sarajevo. The hotel is not very close to the main/old part of the city, so it took a while to even get there--but I found the river and followed it along for a bit. I found the old Jewish synagogue looking out over the river and  took photos for you. The old town is a mixture of Turkish/Arabic/ Eastern European/Islamic arts and design. I also found a gallery exhibiting photos from the Srebrenica genocide and its aftermath. Words cannot express what these people have been through. I am hoping even more that the Women's Court Project is a success for those who have come to testify. At dinner there were tables of women from Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and others still arriving. The atmosphere is building--I have such a sense of this amazing network between many women that exists despite the continuing hatreds and nationalisms."
                                                                                                        All my love,

                                          Di in the free zone with Urska in Ljubljana in 2014

May 10, 2015

Dear Heart,
  All working out here. We've worked doggedly on our 'conclusions' and have agreed - we deliver them this morning. High anxiety about unrest in Macedonia - some women have gone home. Must rush now,
Love xxx

I hear on the radio of the military action within Macedonia and I know the women trying so hard to listen to each other and find new ways will be forced back into the old histories. My concern is with them, my love.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

La Professoressa Sits, Stands and Travels

                                     In our home before La Professoressa, Di Otto, leaves for Sarajevo, May 2015

                               With Esme and Alex on our May Vigil Against the Occupation, Melbourne, May

                                                    Preparing for Departure, The Hidden Expertise of Good Packing

    My darling has just written that after 34 hours of flying, stop overs and splitting headaches, she has reached the mountain- fringed city of history- torn Sarajevo where she will be part of a Women's Justice Tribunal. For many years, Di has flown over seas to teach, to learn, to share our work with lesbian and progressive communities, with international human rights activists and when I am able, I walk alongside but now the journeys are all hers. The sheer physicality it takes to leave or arrive at this island continent, the demand on all resources for those who can muster the required funds and time and health of body is my oppositional lesson to the taken-for- granted center of all things of New York City. Now I stand at the gate, Cello by my side, waving my goodbye as she leaves in the silver top taxi or in the evening's darkness, listening for her returning to my embrace.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Writers on the Road: Jacqui, Joan and Chea, 1991, Northampton, MA

How I cherish this moment, our shared travels, Jacqui and Chea and me, reading of our body's adventures, carrying politics in every gesture and desire too. The only image that preserves the large woman's body in the black slip that I wore from the late 80s on when I was sharing my erotic writings with an audience. I wanted the honesty of the body there, the availability, the need and generosity of touch written on every swell, every pull of the fabric.