Wednesday, June 28, 2006

intolerance and the lazy blogger

Medieval bigotry. Image of Jewish moneylenders from a French manuscript. Note the characteristic hats, hooked noses, and the closed door that represents the clandestine nature of the transaction.

What I have below is actually the skeleton of a blog entry I started five days ago and never finished. I ran out of steam, saved it as a draft, and, as often happens, completely lost the blog muse. "Strike when it's hot" seems to be the better course as far as blogging goes.

I haven't really returned to the blog because I've been lazy, uninspired, and depressed by the dark muggy northeast weather. I haven't really been lazy -- I've been working like crazy to get ready for my research trip -- but I've been blog-lazy. The only recreation I've really had has been cooking and watching soccer (Alas! Spain has once again disappointed us, losing to France 3-1). I still think I will present the following examples of how insane this world is getting, but stripped down to the minimum of commentary. They do, after all, speak for themselves.

Exhibit One: I was watching Ghana beat the Czech Republic in World Cup soccer and I was surprised when one of the players, John Paintsil, celebrated the win by exhibiting a small Israeli flag. Apparently Paintsil plays professional soccer for Tel Aviv, and he took out the flag in order to greet the fans who had traveled from Israel to see the game. This would have remained nothing but a curiosity were it not for the reaction to the small piece of cloth in Paintsil's hands. Ghanaian embassies in Arab countries received death threats. The government of Libya summoned the Ghanaian ambassador for consultation, and the Ghanaian foreign minister had to meet with Arab ambassadors to calm the "situation."

Exhibit Two: The Presbyterian Church (USA) recently voted to revise a policy that called for divestment from companies that sold military technology used by Israel in the occupied territories. One example is Caterpillar, which sells the bulldozers Israel uses to destroy Palestinian homes. As divestment goes, this case was mild. It never came to be a full policy, and was restricted to specific companies. It was not an attack on the Israeli economy on the whole, just on specific policies that have been widely seen as violations of human rights.

One may or may not agree on the policy. However, the rhetoric used to discuss divestment by its critics was extreme. Former CIA director R. James Woolsey, a Presbyterian layman, spoke at the conference and claimed the divestment policy put the church "clearly on the side of theocratic, totalitarian, anti-Semitic, genocidal beliefs." This was said, even though some American and Jewish groups support divestment. Calling someone genocidal is a great way to spur intelligent debate on an important issue.

Exhibit Three: A Greek professor was denied admittance to the United States when trying to get to a SUNY academic conference. He was detained at JFK, questioned about his political beliefs, and then sent back to Greece, told that there were "technical difficulties" with his visa.

Like I said, I believe all this speaks for itself.


crystal said...

Wow - I'd guess there are examples of this kind of thinking everywhere and all the time, but we aren't always paying attention unless it affects us ... thanks for reminding me.

Liam said...

Yes, it's fairly disturbing but also fairly common.

Amy said...

Ironic word choice. Did you know, when you described Woolsey as a "Presbyterian layman," that the phrase "layman" has been adopted by the right in the PC(USA) as their smear publication (complete with irresponsible journalism)? Check out to see just what I mean. They, along with a coalition of parachurch organizations, have backed speakers like Woolsey who have been trying to cut out the socially prophetic voice of the church. They're paired with the likes of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (

Our policy on divestment really didn't change that much with the new resolution; it was just phrased in gentler language, which is good for interfaith relations. We still maintain the ability to use our money in socially responsibile ways - Something I feel the church is mandated to do.

For me, the question of divestment really came down to my conviction that the church had no business participating in war profiteering...

Anyway, it's a very touchy issue - Whenever anyone criticizes Israel for their human rights issues, they suddenly become "Anti-Semitic," and the accusations begin to roll...

Jeff said...


Good post. I missed seeing your blogging activity.

Regarding the World Cup... Wasn't that just typical Espana, scoring buckets of goals in the prelims, and then losing in the next round to a team that barely made it out of the first round? Carajo!

This Israeli-Palestinian matter needs to be solved with a two-state solution ASAP. The whole world is paying too high a price for this dithering around. This tit-for-tat cycle of violence and "measured responses" isn't making Israel any safer in the long run. I give Spielberg credit for addressing this issue in an oblique fashion in the movie Munich. Israel needs to get out of the West Bank. Two-state solution now, preferably with pre-1967 borders.

I agree that Woolsey's comments are too incendiary to be useful for the particular discussion at hand. The only thing I might offer in his defense is that Hamas may in fact be genocidal.

Liam said...


Thanks for stopping by. I liftend the "Presbyterian layman" description from the news article without thinking about its implications -- that is interesting.

The divestment issue, from what I see, has been misinterpreted. It has been compared to the old divestment in South Africa movement, which was completely different. You decribe it very well -- it's a question of war profiteering. Were I to have enough money to invest in stock, I don't think I would invest in Catapiller either.

The "anti-Semetic" tag is very frustrating, especially here in New York. A right-wing Jewish group decided to go after a Palestinain professor here at Columbia (Joseph Massad), and to read the news reports, you'd think that one would have to be anti-Semitic to support him. They never mentioned the Jewish students who did support him -- including one Israeli who wore a t-shirt saying "I served in the IDF and I love Massad." I understand how serious Israel's secuirty situation is, but that cannot mean a blank check for human rights abuses. The same goes for my own country.


Nice to hear from you. Yes, Spain is Spain in the world cup. Always disappointing.

I agree with you completely about the Israeli - Palestinian question. I've been to Israel. I liked the Israelis and I liked the Palestinians. The whole situation is tragic and you're right -- it doesn't help either Israel's security or ours. The problem is that terrorism works. It makes people violent and irrational. I learned that from seeing people in Spain react to ETA terrorism and Americans react to 9-11. Cycles of violence are very difficult to stop.

I can't really see any justification in Woolsey's comments. In Israel as in the US you can be on the side of Human Rights and question the morality and efficacy of counterterrorist procedures without being on the side of the terrorists.

Amy said...

If any of you all are interested, the PC (USA) social responsible investing program (often referred to as divestment, but actually much more complex than that) has a list of companies that they have chosen to engage through stockholder resolutions, proxy voting, etc. I've attached a link to the list, at

One of the problems with the "divestmen" discussion is our use of that very term. We do have a long, drawn out process of dialoguing with the companies before pulling out our investments, and see divestment only when discussion have broken down and we are at an impasse about our social concerns. The Israel issue is one of many themes on which we engage the corporations. The general program, entitled "Mission Responsibility Through Investment," can be found at If these issues intrigue you, the Christian Science Monitor also has a regularly occurring articles under the heading "Ethical Investing."