Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jewish Leaders Have Done Us Wrong

The Jerusalem Post recently published a speech by David Harris, the Executive Director of the AJC, in which Harris, under the guise of "caring criticism," perpetuates the myth that President Obama stated in his Cairo speech that the Holocaust is the primary cause for the founding of Israel. Not only is this untrue, it also helps to feed the notion that Obama is anti-Israel, a belief that a number of American Jews seem to accept as fact. When this article landed in my inbox, I scurried to my copy of the Cairo speech transcript and found...nothing that made that assertion. Thinking perhaps I had missed something, I let it go. But then, last night, I came across a Capital J blog post whose author, Ron Kampeas, seemed just as frustrated as I was:

"Obama. Did. Not. Link. The Holocaust. To. Israel's founding.


...America's bond with Israel -- not Israel's existence -- is rooted in three things: Culture. History. And sympathy for the tragedy of Jewish history. In its entirety. Not just the Holocaust. Obama's presumption -- and it's not a stretch by any means -- is to imagine these three elements are what sustain American support for Israel: 'America's strong bonds ... this bond ... it is based.' Nowhere does he say, he has not
ever said, 'And the sole underpinning of this bond is the Holocaust.' Nowhere
does he say, he has not ever said, 'And because of this bond, Israel exists.'
Saying this does not, by any means, discount the lives of the 6,000
Israelis who fell fighting for its independence. It is plainly delusional to
suggest as much."

Pleased as I was to have my opinion vindicated, this episode also left me with a more important question--why do American Jewish leaders continue to give life to this falsehood? Do they not realize that these kinds of misstatements only help to fan flames of anxiety already present within the Jewish community? What do they hope to accomplish? While all Jews may not agree with the path that President Obama is pursuing in the Middle East, that is no excuse for Jewish leaders to be absolved of their responsibility to present accurate information to their constituents. Indeed, if these leaders truly wished to provide guidence, they could do no greater service than to lay out the facts, as they exist--not just how they are interpreted--and allow the average person to make an informed decision for themselves. A shocking proposition...I know.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Veil On Display

Yesterday, I went to the Austrian Cultural Forum to see their current exhibit on the veil. Part of the recent NY Muslim Arts and Ideas festival, this exhibition, The Seen And The Hidden: [Dis]covering the Veil, brings nuance and personal immediacy to a subject and a debate in which those ingredients are often lacking. Below are a sampling of some of my favorite pieces.

This piece, created by Asma Ahmed Shikoh, features hijabs from 100 women across the United States incorporated into a honeycomb-shaped sculpture. On each cell of the honeycomb, Shikoh has provided the name, city as well as some detail about the meaning of this particular scarf of each participant. I found this piece to be particularly powerful because of the personal connection that the artist encourages between the viewer and these women. The intimate information she provides forces the public to recognize these women as individuals, rather than members of a nameless bloc, with personal histories which inform the range of reasons why they have chosen to wear the veil.

I was particularly drawn to this piece because of the additional nuance that Esin Turan brings to the discussion. By using highly charged symbols such as the veil and the rainbow flag, he introduces alternative perceptions of gender and sexualtiy into the public consciousness, creating an unexpected twist in veil debate.

My subversive side took particular pleasure in this piece. Apparently the artist, Princess Hijab, has carried out a sort of guerrila warfare in the streets of Paris painting veiled women, such as these to the left, on outdoor advertisements around the city. With so many French threatened by the idea of women in headscarfs roaming the streets, seeing this ad must have really shook them up.

Especially this one with a woman smiling while wearing the scarf. Someone must have put her up to it!