From outside one will always triumphantly impress theories upon the world and then fall straight into the ditch one has dug, but only from inside will one keep oneself and the world quiet and true. /FK (Contact: TBONotebooks at fastmail.fm. The Blue Octavo Notebooks welcomes mail, although we cannot guarantee a response. Your email may be posted in part on The Blue Octavo Notebooks unless otherwise requested.) Please enjoy the notebook entries, and thanks for reading.

Monday, December 22, 2003

I hate to devote more words to the International Solidarity Movement, but I've just read an article about some of its members exploiting the Birthright Israel program as a way to get themselves, free of charge, over to Israel. This merits a response, however much I hate to stain The Blue Octavo Notebooks with further mention of the ISM. Better to keep the light on, though, so we know what they’re up to and where they’re scurrying around.

Anyway, remember Abe Greenhouse, a member of the ISM and a publicity-seeking goon from Rutgers who, while in Jerusalem last fall, not only snuck and lied his way into a restricted media area in the immediate aftermath of a nearby suicide bombing but later desecrated the Western Wall by inserting a profanity-laden message into it? Upon returning to New Jersey, Greenhouse unjustly extended his undeserved 15 seconds of "fame" by assaulting Natan Sharansky, Israel’s Minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs and a man who spent a decade in Soviet jails (including a Siberian gulag), by smashing a pie in the former Soviet refusenik’s face at a Rutgers University function. After the widespread coverage of the latter incident, this (Jewish, as you’ve probably heard, since he made a big deal out of it after assaulting Sharansky) member of the ISM appears to have largely dropped out of sight from the media, perhaps because he realized what an ass he was making of himself with such intellectually mind-numbing stunts. (Note: That a particular ISM member, be it Greenhouse, Ora Wise, or Adam Shapiro, is Jewish is generally guaranteed to be mentioned in any self-serving publicity about the person’s ISM “activism,” in part because it’s a propaganda bonanza for the ISM to have such Jewish activists, no matter how obnoxious, deluded, and/or silly they might be, since it gives them a Jewish figure to hold up to the media in response to claims that their movement is in anyway prejudiced against Jews or is otherwise anti-Semitic. But as I’ve pointed out before, having a Jewish person in a particular movement in no way subtracts from the vapidity or repugnance embodied in that group’s activities, nor does having a Jewish person mouth inane or otherwise execrable rhetoric, be it about Israel or anything else, afford the rhetoric any less discredit.)

Not surprisingly, despite his obnoxious behavior in regards to Israel and to Sharansky, an individual with more moral stature than Greenhouse could ever dream, Greenhouse had no problem taking advantage of a free Birthright Israel trip to get himself to Israel. Birthright Israel is “a unique partnership between the people of Israel through their government, local Jewish communities (through the United Jewish Communities, Keren Hayesod and The Jewish Agency for Israel), and leading Jewish philanthropists” that “provides a gift of first time, peer group, educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26.” Contrary to what I was told last summer by an ISM activist, it’s not called “Birthplace Israel,” nor or is it free to any Jew who wants a free trip to Israel: If you’re not 18 to 26, or if you are but have already been to Israel, you don’t qualify. Listening to this person lament “Birthplace Israel,” by which any Jewish person is, ahem, entitled to a free trip to Israel is one of my more priceless, albeit typical, ISM memories. Typical, of course, in that it made me wonder whether these people are so stupid as to actually believe this and the other similarly minded stupidities they and their ilk retch up (Israeli soldiers shot at people coming to Rachel Corrie’s aid, for example: See TBON entry of 11.13.03), or if they’re simply so intellectually twisted and dishonest (or brainwashed, perhaps?) that they have no problem yowling about such fantasies and inanities. Birthplace Israel, indeed, but I digress. Unfortunately, this program has been taken advantage of by a handful of people like Greenhouse, who use their free trips as a way to get into Israel, and quite cheaply and conveniently at that. After arriving in Israel free-of-charge and then enjoying a free ten-day tour of the country, these people then engage in ISM activities and other actions that, needless to say, are contrary to the spirit and goodwill that brought them to Israel.

All this is thoroughly dishonest and a crass abuse of other people’s philanthropy, of course, but as ISM cofounder Adam Shapiro explained to students at last month’s Palestine Solidarity Movement, “It's a free ticket.” Indeed it is, and that the cofounder of ISM would encourage young functionaries to exploit it for ISM benefit and other such purposes is further evidence of the intellectual cravenness and dishonesty that he and his movement so often embody.

But as the above article notes, officials at Birthright Israel are aware that some folks may try to take advantage of the program, and they’ve begun to take precautions to prevent any further such abuses. It’s a troubling phenomenon, to be sure, despite the fact that “ISM supporters on birthright would constitute a tiny fraction of the 50,000 people who have taken the tour.” Indeed, the five ISM people whom Shapiro claims to know who supposedly entered Israel under the aegis of Birthplace, er, Birthright Israel, would constitute a whopping one one-hundredth of one percent of all the people who’ve participated in the program. Granted, any claims regarding entry into Israel, when spouted by the cofounder of a group that encourages people to lie their way into Israel, must be taken with grains of salt. But 0.01% isn’t much of a statistic, as tasteless as the individual cases like Greenhouse’s and Shapiro’s five unnamed comrades may be. That “Thousands of birthright graduates have returned for another trip to Israel, hundreds are serving in the IDF, or learning in universities and other institutions in Israel” is a far more interesting and notable fact. That ISM members would take advantage of the goodwill of other people and of various philanthropic organizations is callous and contemptible, but it’s hardly surprising given the ISM’s already-established track record of deceit, self-publicity, and other obnoxious behavior.

If anything, this latest obnoxious and duplicitous behavior on the part of the ISM, in the larger picture, works to their disadvantage, as it reveals them yet again as a gang of immature, dishonest, self-righteous provocateurs. Sneaking into Israel under false auspices, be it through a Birthright trip or other such means, may be fun and exciting and, like, totally revolutionary, man, not to mention a radically empowering (or something) way to stick it to the Zionist Man and subvert Capitalism (after all, being honest and paying one’s own way is sooooo bourgeoisie, dawg; better to trick somebody else into doing it for you); but such subterfuge and tawdriness pretty much disqualifies the person in question from being taken seriously. There is a thin line between radicalism and juvenile delinquency, somebody once said, and this and other such boorish, loutish behavior from the ISM proves once again that, despite all their talk and self-righteous blather, they prefer to stay as close as possible to the latter side of the line, if they ever manage to cross it at all. After all, it’s far, far safer to antagonize a country like Israel, a country that will take efforts to ensure the rights and safety even of people like ISM functionaries who not only sneak into the country under false premises but who then assist in actions that endanger Israelis, rather than playing such games with countries like, say, North Korea or Iran or Syria.

That these ISM people chose to go to Israel, under false pretenses or not, rather than various Arab countries where Palestinians are oppressed (Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, etc.) concedes the various asinine points they try to make about how awful and nefarious Israel is. After all, can one imagine Adam Shapiro and his ilk sneaking into Syria to stand in solidarity with the oppressed Palestinians there, in defiance of the Syrian government and its military? Can you imagine ISM activists annoying and trying to obstruct Syrian soldiers the same way they do Israeli soldiers, or attacking and defacing Syrian military structures? Indeed not, and not least because the Syrian regime has little tolerance for obnoxious foreigners or anyone else who meddles in its affairs. The same could be said for Jordan, Egypt, etc. The ISM knows full well that Israel is the only country in the region, and probably the world, that would let them get away with such obnoxious behavior, as Israel has done for years now, and the ISM’s continued presence in Israel and in Israeli courts and in the territories belies all their execrable claims about the so-called genocidal racist Apartheid state. If the ISM had any sense of decency they’d thank Israel for affording them such a highly visible playground, which comes thanks in large part to Israel’s freedom of the press (another feature you can’t find in Syria or other nearby countries), on which to display their pretensions to radicalism. It’s far better and far safer to stick with Israel, a country that respects and protects human rights, and the ISM knows it full well.

The ISM’s taking advantage of the Birthright Israel program is something that might have really annoyed me a few months ago. But, in my book, they jumped the shark quite a while back. Such execrable behavior on their part has been predictable for a long time, and there’s little reason to waste any emotional energy getting upset about it. The appropriate people know about it (and not just because Shapiro mouthed off to the media about ISM people abusing the Birthright Program—smooth move, slickster!) and are taking appropriate measures. In the mean time, Shapiro and the ISM have disgraced and discredited themselves for the umpteenth time. One wonders if anybody, including ISM members themselves, takes the group even halfway seriously anymore.

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