Blogger Sheizaf would rather write about cinema, but he has been called to witness a great crime

on 17 Comments

On Wednesday, the New York Times did a piece quoting Netanyahu’s speech before the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations in New Orleans and didn’t mention that young Jewish activists repeatedly heckled the PM, even as the disruption was all that anyone was talking about. That night I went to an aliyah event at NYU and a leader of the recruiters of young Jews had been in New Orleans– the demonstrators were the first thing he talked about.

I left that event to hear the Israeli blogger Noam Sheizaf speak a few blocks away at NYU. He also talked about the hecklers and the different media realities:

From my perspective as a social media person, I am less and less interested… in the complicated manuevering between Netanyahu and Abu Mazen. And frankly I think most people got to the point where they are fed up with it, on both sides, and in Washington as well, and I think most of you have read the same stories for years about it. I’m interested in the person who was evacuated from his house in Jerusalem where he lived for 30 years to make way for a settler family last week. That’s what interests me. And these are the social media stories. I would like to make a prediction. I will guess that you will hear more and more [of this type of] stories about Israel soon, and they will become the stories of the mainstream media as well..

Sheizaf (who started Promised Land two years ago, and helped start 972 more recently) was part of a debate sponsored by Rabbis for Human Rights about Israel’s image in the media. (Parts of the exchange are on Youtube here.) His opponent was a former Israeli consulate official, David Saranga, and Sheizaf’s theme was the power of social media to upend the official narrative.

He told us of his own success. Reporters at the New York Times and Politico follow him on twitter; this would have been incomprehensible to him as a young journalist, that he would ever have that type of influence inside the Beltway.

And this is what I wanted, to have a political impact. Blogging is not just reporting, it is engaged reporting. We are engaged in an internal battle in Israel. I’m using these tools of facebook and twitter to push something…

I live-blogged [the flotilla] for four days from the Hebrew media. Traffic to my site went up ten times. [It took the IDF five hours to get out its version of the story.] And those five  hours framed much of how the story was handled and Israel has done damage control since then. And I understand why Hamas has said, the flotilla is better than 10,000 rockets.

Sheizaf’s pieces have been linked by the The Washington Post and The New York Times, but those links are chopped liver next to Glenn Greenwald. “When Glenn Greenwald said, go to this guy on Twitter– Glenn Greenwald is like a mega important person on the net, who is hardly known in the mainstream… Social media changes everything in the game.”

But this was not a careerist panel; and Sheizaf’s presentation was as morally serious as any event I’ve attended in New York in my lifetime. Sheizaf is a friend but I am being objective when I say that he is a future leader. Anyone who meets him sees this in him. He is softspoken, attractive, mature, confident, and thoughtful. He is Tel Aviv elite; and he is also a captain in the IDF reserves who has refused to serve in the Occupied Territories; and his hatred of Palestinian oppression became the theme of the evening.

It was electrifying to hear this young man in a sweater take moral command. Let me just quote things he said. (My emphasis)

The story David is telling about two societies equal in a conflict where everything is about security and good guys and bad guys, and one guy  wants peace and the other guy doesn’t is very compelling, but in the reality the Palestinians are the people under occupation and the people suffering abuse of their human rights, and they are real people, people older than the age of almost everyone in this room, almost, who have never been one day in their life free. Which is something that is hard in today’s society to understand. Never been free one day.

Once you have people who have access to these people who will report their daily troubles, every day, the story will not be about the government….

I live pretty comfortably in Tel Aviv. I prefer Tel Aviv to New York. Going to Tel Aviv and sitting on the beach, and then going to see a film, you might think you are in one of the nicest cities on the Mediterranean.

But 20 minutes away people in Nil’in and Bil’in can’t go into their own fields. And when I go [to demonstrate] there I am violating Israeli laws…

This point about electing one government or the other. The Palestinians have no say in these elections in which Israelis elect a government that is going to do something about settlements or about peace. No say over a government that controls their lives. What if one third of the people in this room had no vote and the other two thirds had a vote over their conditions, would that be a democracy? No.

Sheizaf also spoke with compassion for Israelis and their “tragic situation.” Most Israelis now understand how unsustainable the political situation is, and it makes them “confused, anxious, and very much scared of what the future holds,” but instead of taking action, they are paralyzed.

I’ve taken too long to get to the most exciting part of his talk. Two pro-Israel questioners with American accents kept peppering Sheizaf with flak about how screwed up human rights in Palestine are, say for women and gays. Why is he so concerned with Israeli violations? His answers:

Quite simple. First of all, I’m an Israeli, so I’m more interested in the wrongdoings of my own government…. I’m a captain in the IDF. I go to the West Bank and I see what’s going on there. And that’s something that bothers me deeply. These are the actions of my own government. I can influence them. I have to carry them out myself, and this is something that bothers me deeply.

The fact that Palestinians create injustices to others, it is tragic, but it is their own issue.

The bottom line is this, You don’t step on someone’s head and tell him he should shave at the same time. You don’t tell him he should look nicer. Israel can talk about Palestinian human rights as much as it wants, but as long as it’s done within the context of occupation it’s just PR.

I’ve got to be very clear about this… I don’t want to be involved in the internal questions of Palestinians as long as we are the occupying force. It’s the basic moral positon. You don’t take someone’s entire poltical right and then criticize its society for not being too liberal. They can’t be liberal, because they can’t travel, they don’thave freedom of speech

Woman in audience: Imposed by who?

By Israel.

Woman: In Gaza?

They can’t travel outside Gaza. The thing is this, people from Gaza who study in Bir Zeit university in Ramallah, can’t go to school because Israel won’t allow them, it only allows a few dozen people in emergency medical cases, and I get the sense that it does it for PR purposes. 

This is a moral issue for me, not to tell people how to behave when you’re the one who’s causing the greatest problem they confront.

Sheizaf then dropped a bomb. How would you feel if you found out that in the pre civil war south a white family was questioning the norms of a black people and telling them how to lead their lives.

Any society where one takes the liberties of the other, it’s really questionable where one can lecture to the other, you know you have to be nicer to your women.

When the woman persisted from the audience about kids being trained to be suicide bombers, Sheizaf ended on a stunning point, and for once his voice became emotional. (My taperecorder ran out of juice, some of this is a little imprecise, from notes; and this part isn’t on Youtube yet).

I am going to say something that may upset people here. Baruch Goldstein was the first suicide attacker, in the tomb of the Patriarchs, and he did it to ruin the peace process in 1994 and a lot of people still idolize him in the West Bank…

Both these societies have their faults.

I’m interested in speaking about Israel. My responsibility is in Israel.

I can’t separate the occupation from anything in Israel. I care more about cinema than politics. But I have to be political now. The occupation is one of the worse crimes in our lifetimes.

I don’t get paid for this work. I do it on my own time. We do it out of a commitment to approach people to tell them what we see. Emotionally and politically I am totally committed to changing this crime being done by my country.

James North often quotes to me the moral leadership of Yonatan Shapira, who refused to carry out “targeted assassinations” in Gaza because he asked his commanding officer if they would carry out such operations if the target was in Tel Aviv, and the superior said no, Jews were living in the neighboring apartments. I think that Sheizaf shows similar clarity and leadership in these comments.

17 Responses

  1. James North
    November 12, 2010, 1:32 pm

    Noam Sheizaf, one more moral giant. The struggle for Palestinian human rights brings out the best in some people.

  2. Citizen
    November 12, 2010, 1:33 pm

    By the same token every American should be concerned about the Palestinian plight. But for the lone superpower US enabling Israel in so many consistent and myriad ways, Israel would not have got away with its horrible policies for so long. Yesterday was Veterans Day in America. Most honored was “the greatest generation,” the one who fought WW2. The reason America won that war is symbolized not only by GI grit, the Story of GI Joe, in the face of two fanatical and highly industrialized regimes, but also by Rosie The Riveter. Our current war in Iraq, the contemplated one in Iran, and the story of the Palestinian people we so greatly have funded and diplomatically allowed–these US policies are not the values our WW2 generation fought for; in fact, they are of a kind that generation fought against. Further, none of them are even within the ambit of the most long term effective geo-political strategy. We need more Americans, both Jew and Gentile to represent American values–to save the USA from itself, to save Israel from itself–because nobody else can.

    • seafoid
      November 12, 2010, 1:49 pm

      WW2 is greatly ovewrrated, Ciizen. It ended up with Eastern Europe saved from one murderous ideology and thrown to another.

      • Citizen
        November 12, 2010, 6:39 pm

        I agree that was the worst of the results of the heroic efforts I described, seafoid, however, would you have preferred a Hitler domain over all of Europe and Russia, or Stalin and Hitler joining up as they had agreed to, to partition Poland (and one wonders how many other countries, until they jointly attacked the USA, not to mention a Tojo rule over all of China and most of the Orient? Stalin was rushing to Japan too, when his goal there was ended by American nukes. With all that in mind, how overrated was the American effort? It’s not a rhetorical question. What do you think?

  3. Psychopathic god
    November 12, 2010, 1:33 pm

    just received this email from Columbia University J Street:

    Psychopathic God —

    It is an honor to invite you to Columbia to hear John Ging, Director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, discuss his reflections on peace and the difficult situation in Gaza. The event is this Sunday, November 14th at 7 PM in Room 304 of Barnard Hall at 3009 Broadway at 117th Street.

    As student organizers with Just Peace, we were looking forward to hosting an event for John Ging because we think it’s important to hear from experts on our issue that speak from many perspectives, even if we don’t necessarily agree with everything they have to say. Other community organizations on campus took issue with our involvement with Mr. Ging, and we are now unfortunately unable to co-sponsor the event.

    We believe strongly in the need to create a space on our campus and in the Jewish community where we can wrestle with our commitment to Israel and concern for some of her actions. We are thankful to the five Columbia groups, including the Columbia Political Union, the Institute for the Study of Human Rights, and the Columbia Democrats, for working with J Street U to hold this event.

    It has been a difficult week for pro-Israel, pro-peace students at Columbia and your support, by joining our discussion with John Ging, will go a long way. On campus, it can be easy to feel like you are in a bubble. It is always great to know that there are so many wonderful people who care so deeply about changing the way we engage as a community around these issues.

    My board and I will proudly be at this important discussion and look forward to seeing you there! Please say hello! Email us at [email protected] to learn more.


    Abby Backer
    President, Just Peace at Columbia University
    November 12, 2010


    J Street is the political home of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement.

    I’m not sure what the difficulties were that so vexed J Street Columbia, or where Mr. Ging stands — is it in opposition to J Street position against BDS?
    Anybody know?

    • marc b.
      November 12, 2010, 2:30 pm

      not exactly a paragon of clarity, that. so if it’s going forward, will it be webcast?

    • MRW
      November 12, 2010, 2:44 pm


      I think John Ging was the UN guy who refuted Israeli claims that the UN schools they bombed were full of Hamas terrorists shooting at them. Check YouTube; it would confirm it. He insisted the schools were marked on the roof, that the schools were full of Gazan civilians made homeless by the bombs in addition to school children, and he accused the Israelis of, essentially, murder of innocents in a fish barrel.

    • annie
      November 12, 2010, 8:01 pm

      my guess is the higher ups at j street came under pressure so the local j street branch had to drop out of sponsorship. israel doesn’t like ging. i was fortunate enough to here him speak in gaza (i got to hold the mic for carolyn’s radio recording, right in front of him). he’s awesome. naturally israel doesn’t like him, he’s the bane of their existence. i’m sure they would love to banning UNRWA altogether (delegitimizers!).

  4. pabelmont
    November 12, 2010, 2:39 pm

    Sheizaf has hit the important point: in a democracy (as I believe Israel is for its Jews), and even in a failed or failing democracy like the USA (where big-money from corporations and billionaires controls both of the two business parties, as Noam Chomsky has so well characterized them), it lies with the people who care about human rights and who know what their own country is doing against H/R — it lies with us to act.

    How to act is of course a problem, but to do nothing at all is to accept and enable the evil.

  5. IrishMark
    November 12, 2010, 3:26 pm

    I’m proud of fellow citizen, John Ging, UNRWA director in the Gaza Strip, who recently delivered some more plain speaking regarding the eased Gaza blockade: “there is no tangible change for the people on the ground here with regard to their condition, dependence on aid, the absence of any recovery or reconstruction. And there is no economy.”

  6. Jim Haygood
    November 12, 2010, 6:20 pm

    ‘I’m interested in speaking about Israel. My responsibility is in Israel.’

    I hope Noam Sheizaf delivers this message to some synagogues — the ones with the green ‘’ banners draped on them.

    Saving Darfur is all well and good, but we don’t have a great deal of influence there. By contrast, American Jews have tremendous influence in Israel.

    Sheizaf’s focus on Israel as his area of responsibility is quite right. Act where you have the influence and ability to accomplish something.

    Similarly, Americans need to focus on their responsibility for letting the Lobby systematically distort our politics and foreign aid policy. The solid wall of Congressional support for Israel has got to be breached, the same way the Palestinians in Bilin pulled down their bit of the hateful separation wall — one chunk at a time.

    • Bandolero
      November 13, 2010, 4:19 am

      “Saving Darfur is all well and good, but we don’t have a great deal of influence there. By contrast, American Jews have tremendous influence in Israel.”

      I disagree with this. I’m of the opinion, that:

      1. The US started the civil war in Sudan by covertly building up a militia named “Sudan People’s Liberation Army” with the aim of splitting the country and have US-friendly militia controlling the oil rich south.

      2. The US tried to put the blame on the victims of this covert US aggression, ie the people of Sudan loyal to their government and the US fabricated a case of genocide against the Sudanese government.

      3. The Israel lobby – with people like Elie Wiesel in the frontline – founded donor goups like Save Darfur basing on these fabricated charges, and they misused most of the money donated for saving people in Darfur to built up illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian lands.

      4. Israel gives militarily support for a sudanese anti-government militia called Justice and Equality Movement.

      5. Israel bombed Sudan in January 2009, a plain Israeli act of war against Sudan.

      I would love to see “American Jews” speaking out against the savedafur scam like people in the free world do, because I believe “American Jews” have a lot of influence in stopping this aggression.

  7. annie
    November 12, 2010, 7:55 pm

    wow, i have read promised land and admired sheizaf’s posts for so long. somehow i imagined him larger than life. it is amazing to see him sitting there in that chair and listening to him being his amazing self. israel is lucky to have him, we all are.

    thanks for the report phil

  8. DICKERSON3870
    November 12, 2010, 9:51 pm

    RE: “My taperecorder ran out of juice…” – Weiss
    MY COMMENT: What’s a “taperecorder”? Is that a relic from the Analog Age? Let me guess: Radio Shack? How embarrassing!

    Three words: ‘digital voice recorder’
    Two words: ‘audio recorder’
    One word: ‘recorder’
    P.S. They use a hell of a lot less “juice”!

  9. Avi
    November 13, 2010, 8:08 am

    I would like to respond to the question asked by the audience member to whom Noam Sheizaf responded.

    People like that audience member need to understand that the occupation started in 1967, the first Palestinian uprising in response to that occupation started in 1987. The first suicide bombing was carried out by Hamas in 1994 in response to the Oslo accords which sought to outsource and subcontract the occupation to Fatah’s Palestinian Authority without addressing fundamental injustices like continued settlement expansion and house demolitions, extrajudicial assassinations and administrative detention.

    So, the occupation started in 1967 and suicide bombings did not start until 1994. That is a difference of 27 years. That’s right, the Palestinians took the beatings and the brutalization of their society for 27 years before SOME, in this case Hamas, resorted to suicide bombings.

    If that proves anything, it is the great patience and resolve which the Palestinian people posses. Can you imagine a battered wife putting up with physical abuse and wretched conditions for 27 years? Then at the end of those 27 years, when she finally kills herself and takes her husband down with her, the physical abuse of a caged person is justified on the grounds that See, we told you all along. She was a danger to herself and to her husband. It’s no wonder he brutalized her. It was a necessity.

    Thus, for the audience member to claim that the occupation is/was necessary because of suicide bombings, is to turn reality on its head.

    And finally, the last suicide bombing took place in 2004, so to continue to revert to that as an argumentation tactic shows that the person asking the question is not interested in reality.

    • eljay
      November 13, 2010, 8:47 am

      >> Can you imagine a battered wife putting up with physical abuse and wretched conditions for 27 years? Then at the end of those 27 years, when she finally kills herself and takes her husband down with her, the physical abuse of a caged person is justified on the grounds thatSee, we told you all along. She was a danger to herself and to her husband. It’s no wonder he brutalized her. It was a necessity.

      The “humanist’s” reply: “His brutality was ‘disappointing’ and ‘unhelpful’, but he was clearly fear-scarred and, given that he could have slipped on it and seriously hurt himself, all that blood of hers on the floor was tantamount to a ‘junior form of terrorism’. If only she had taken the time to humanize her husband, rather than taking the maximalist and destabilizing course of calling the cops on him. (Yes, she said it was to demand accountability for his actions, but clearly she wanted to see him destroyed.)”

    • Citizen
      November 14, 2010, 8:25 am

      Thanks, Avi, for pointing out that timeline clearly and for your apt analogy.

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