The woman on the plane

Israel/Palestine
on 73 Comments

I got a direct flight back from Israel to New York and had an empty seat between me and the youth on the aisle, till the very last minute, when a small broad shouldered woman in a white eyelet jacket and a white skirt bustled down the aisle and motioned to be let in, saying a few words in Hebrew to the kid on the aisle.

Oh great, two Israelis. Now is the time to be Huck Finn, I thought. If you get talking to her, don’t give her anything. Don’t tell her your real story. There’s no percentage in that. Tell her – and I composed a tale in my head.

I’m an architect in the Hudson River valley. My first wife lives in Israel. Our son wants to go into the army. I went over to try and talk him out of it. My son is troubled.

Not a word about being a journalist or an anti-Zionist Jew. Don’t ask for trouble.

The woman turned out to be a talker. She told me her drama about buying a tefilin as a gift in Jerusalem and making the plane at the last minute.

“I’d be too anxious to be do that.”

She shrugged. “If I make it I make it. Your first trip?”

“Second. The last time was when I was a teenager.”

My first lie. But she seemed to buy the rest of ’em too. When I told her about my son going into the IDF, she said, “Why stop him. Let him. What can you do about it?”

I told her about the drug arrest in college and the gang he’d been mixed up with and the racism I was afraid he’d developed and would only get worse “here.”

She nodded. “It’s his life. Maybe they’ll straighten him out.”

I couldn’t argue with that. And as the plane settled into the long haul over Europe we had dinner and she told me something about herself. I was grateful to have her talking. As Mark Twain said, It’s hard keeping a story straight.

She said she went out on business and to visit her mother’s grave. She’s a Mizrahi Jew, and a New Yorker. They always stop her at the airport, question her.

“Arab names?”

“Yes and Yemen in the records. They know.”

So she was on to Israeli racism.

“Were they happy in Yemen?”

“Oh yes. Very happy. They did well.”

I took a risk. “I study history; what do you think about the idea that Zionists bombed the synagogues in Arab countries to get the Jews to flee?”

“I believe it. They needed bodies here. That’s all they wanted. Jewish bodies.”

“That’s not a vision. They don’t seem to have figured out a future here.”

“They haven’t. They have no way forward, and they see the world going against them.”

I played dumb. “What about the left?”

She rolled her eyes. “There are no real leftists in Israeli society. They’re all rightwing. I have a friend whose daughter wasn’t going to go into the army. He’s a big liberal. He had a crisis. He said, it would give him a heart attack if she didn’t go in, because it would destroy him.”

“Destroy his reputation in the eyes of his friends?”

“No destroy the ideals, in himself. When you start actually talking to the liberals, they’re as rightwing as the others right under the surface, though they spout all this stuff. The liberalism is a charade.”

She gave me the beef dinner she hadn’t eaten, and the desert.

“A friend of mine explained this place a long time ago. Everyone in Israel is orthodox Jewish,” she said. “And I agree with that.”

“Orthodox religious?”

“No. Orthodox Jewish. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be there. They believe strictly in Judaism. It goes beyond religion.”

Well I’d never thought about that. I was starting to regret my Huck Finn act. I said, “It can’t go on like that.”

“Why not?”

“Because the Palestinians have no rights.”

“Yes. So what?”

“They’re stateless. And they’re half the population. That’s not sustainable.”

“I don’t see why not. The Israelis live easily with hypocrisy. In Reform Judaism, we make the rules for ourselves so then we follow the rules. The Christian religions are mostly like that, they make the rules for themselves. Not the Catholics. They are completely hypocritical. But in orthodox Judaism, someone made the rules, and the people learn to get around them when they need to.”

I liked her. If I hadn’t lied we could keep going into politics. I’d tell her about non-violent resistance and BDS.

In the night when I went to the bathroom I climbed over the tops of the seats not to wake her. She was single and my age. She’d had a tough life. She’d lost jobs, and the person she was closest to. She’d showed me a photograph of her mother, in a Sana’a photo studio as a young bride, and the journal she keeps of thoughts she writes down about her mother.

I always find wise women. I gravitate toward them because they are my opposite. She would forgive me if I got out of my lie. But how? It would be a lot of work. She might think I was crazy.

Alright, so toughen up. There were just 5 hours left. I’d gone too far to turn back now.

I worked on an article on my computer and made the print super small so she couldn’t read over my shoulder and think, he’s a writer.

In the morning she gave me half her breakfast, the bagel and the yogurt, and asked more about my family. I really liked her. I moved from the bullshit to the real shit – because you can tell a wise woman anything. I told her about the worst thing that had happened in my life. A betrayal. A death. A lie. Sleaziness. A lot of pain, things I’ve never written about.

She listened quietly and said, “You have to move on.”

“I’ve heard that from friends,” I said. “And maybe you’re right. But I have to decide for myself.”

“You need to go forward.”

“Wait a second! You visit your mother’s grave and keep a journal of all your thoughts about her – who are you to tell me to move on?”

“It’s all positive, my journal,” she said without defensiveness. “You’re looking back at something awful. There’s a lot of wisdom in the story of Lot’s wife. She turned back to look and turned into a pillar of salt.”

Lot's wife, sculpture by William Hamo Thornycroft

Lot’s wife, sculpture by William Hamo Thornycroft

At the carousel I offered to help her with her bags but she was as much of a fairy as she’d been coming on to the plane, her bag came early and she used her entire frame to throw it on one of those barrows and shook my hand. I gave her a big hug and she gave me a jar of nuts from a Tel Aviv deli. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, on BDS grounds. Get her name? Write her the truth. Leave the nuts in the baggage area? Send them back? I took them home and when my friend came over to hear about my trip we finished them off with red wine.

I’d lied to her and manipulated her. What a heel I am. And yet: I’m reading Camus’s last novel, about his family in Algeria, French colonials, and, they’re all unassuming people, the French workers of Algiers. His mother the deaf mute who cleans people’s houses. The teacher who saved young Albert’s life (Jacques in the book). His fierce grandmother who puts her arm all the way into the latrine when he lies and says he dropped a 2 Franc coin down it. The uncle who was in love with his mother and fought off her suitors when she was widowed by World War I. All humble people, and some very fine, swept away by the politics of decolonization.

In a conflict, there are great big-hearted wise people on the other side, but you don’t want to find out about them. That’s what happens in a colonized militarized situation. It’s necessary to dehumanize people in order to rationalize bloodshed. And there is going to be bloodshed. The politics are too imbalanced and inhuman. So if you’re utterly political (and I’m not) it is better to demonize them. Not know anything about them.

My wife quotes the Lot’s wife lesson to me. She wants me to move forward. She and friends had told me to move on, but all the counsel means nothing next to a good story, a parable. There’s more guidance in that story about how to live your life than in any lecture or nostrum. The wise woman on the plane gave it to me. The wise woman, whatever her name is, gave me a diamond of my Jewish life as I was lying through my teeth to her.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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73 Responses

  1. homingpigeon
    December 15, 2013, 1:02 pm

    Next time don’t lie. Don’t say everything, but don’t lie Habibi.

  2. Amar
    December 15, 2013, 1:06 pm

    Would be funny if she reads Mondoweiss. :D

    • Shuki
      December 15, 2013, 6:40 pm

      Statistically, there is a better chance that she’s walked on the moon.

  3. Pamela Olson
    December 15, 2013, 1:15 pm

    A wonderful story. Don’t feel too bad about lying. You played the percentages — odds were, it would have been a very unpleasant flight if you hadn’t lied. I also find myself hedging when people ask what I do and what I write about.

    The nice thing is, I’m finding the hedging less and less necessary. More and more people are at least curious and open to our type of perspective on this issue. Little by little, we are moving into polite company and the mainstream. It’s the others who will soon have to be hedging before admitting their views.

    It is easier not to humanize “the other,” but it’s deeply dangerous for everyone. I read part of that settler girl’s book (the girl who did that awful Miley Cyrus settler video), and it also reads like a bit of a parody. (She calls her book “The Settler.”) Her childish sense of entitlement and complete blindness to the Gazans surrounding her family (before the disengagement) is utterly laughable if you know the larger reality. But she doesn’t see it. Still, you can feel for her family being thrown out of their homes of 24 years (after moving from perfectly nice lives in California to the subsidized villas and boutique businesses of the Gaza settlements). It’s jarring to lose something you feel you built, even if it’s built on stolen land.

    You just think, “Look, people are people, everyone likes a nice life and an affordable home with lots of space next to the beach… But if only they could open their eyes just a little! Just broaden their perspective enough to realize what their little paradise costs other human beings… and what it ultimately costs them.”

    In the book, the girl’s brother was killed in Gaza while trying to protect settlements. She squares that circle by saying that if the settlements weren’t there, the Palestinians would be attacking Israel inside the green line instead. But the whole thing feels like an attempt to inject meaning into life by simultaneously living in cushy luxury and living in constant danger, telling yourself you’re on the “front lines” of something important. I get it. My life also felt more meaningful, vivid, and charged when I was living in the West Bank.

    But my God, if only they would open their eyes just a little… Have just a little compassion for others. You can’t do anything with people who live so far in a bubble of propaganda and paranoia, they’ve lost perspective entirely. And why should other people have to suffer so badly for their blindness?

    • Citizen
      December 15, 2013, 6:26 pm

      @ Pamela Olson

      You mean this woman who did this really weak musical parody video of Miley Cyrus expressing total Jewish Zionist entitlement uber alles? http://www.timesofisrael.com/pro-settler-video-parodies-miley-cyrus/

      • Pamela Olson
        December 16, 2013, 10:36 am

        Yep, that’s the one and (hopefully) only.

      • Sumud
        December 16, 2013, 11:32 am

        Hi Pamela, agree the Miley video is atrocious!

        Being a glutton for punishment I located the author’s web page http://oritarfa.net and had a look around, she writes she had a crisis, of sorts, with zionism after Gush Katif was evacuated by Sharon in 2005.

        Also came across this piece by her that was originally published in 972:

        http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/settlers-against-the-occupation/

        Anyway I find it hard to believe the person in that video and the author of the 972 piece are one and the same. I don’t think she’s ready to deal with all the injustice and theft of property and land the Nakba entails, but she seems rather more thoughtful than the video would suggest…

        Arfa raises the interesting idea that among the settlers there may just be a few potential allies for anti-zionists.

        What do you think?

  4. Ellen
    December 15, 2013, 1:36 pm

    Lying is never wise. There are times to speak truth, even if uncomfortable and times to say nothing. But nice story.

    • W.Jones
      December 15, 2013, 2:20 pm

      Ellen, yes, sometimes you can say nothing. If you are asked what job, you can say a writer, but then what have you written? Have you written noncontroversial things that you can talk about instead?

      Etc.

    • SQ Debris
      December 16, 2013, 11:57 am

      Ellen, when you are on a plane out of Tel Aviv, forthrightness isn’t necessarily a positive. Those things have been known to turn around and deposit passengers into the loving hands of a notably unsavory gang of thugs. Keeping your cards close in that context is just good sense. Phil should be congratulated for having the moxie to not pretend he was a deaf mute.

  5. Ismail
    December 15, 2013, 1:41 pm

    Wonderful story, beautifully told.

    On the Tel Aviv nuts dilemma, I don’t think you have a thing to worry about. They were already paid for, your consuming them adds not a particle of aid to the oppressors. You may feel funny, but that’s just psychology and BDS is political, not personal. It’s about changing the behavior of an unjust actor, not enjoying the feeling of camping out on the ethical high ground (or, as may be more likely, suffering the guilt of consuming politically suspect filberts).

  6. Donald
    December 15, 2013, 2:11 pm

    I’m not sure you “manipulated” her–other than some nuts, what did you get out of it? But there was no reason to lie. You’re not under any obligation to go into your politics and whole life story with strangers on airplanes. You blew any chance to be friends with this woman with all the BS and lies you told.

    • W.Jones
      December 15, 2013, 2:17 pm

      During the Iraq invasion some Americans visiting particularly anti-colonial parts of Europe said they were Canadian. It was very awkward. Don’t ask me how I know. ;)

      • German Lefty
        December 15, 2013, 4:30 pm

        During the Iraq invasion some Americans visiting particularly anti-colonial parts of Europe said they were Canadian.

        There was no reason to do that. Just say that you are a US citizen and immediately add that you disapprove of your country’s foreign policy.
        Also, there is no reason for Jews to hide their Jewishness. If they state that they are Jewish and then make clear that they reject the Jewish state, there probably won’t be negative reactions.

      • LeaNder
        December 16, 2013, 7:36 am

        G(L)ive me one reason why they should? Personally I wouldn’t worry the least what some type of political correct speech rule enforcer thinks about me, if I do not follow his rules, no matter what camp she belongs into. …

        Freiheit ist immer die Freiheit der Andersdenkenden. Rosa Luxemburg

        ***********************************
        Donald, I can understand Phil hesitations or “lie” above, who would want be troubled with political speech all the way from Israel to NYC? Especially in a spot you cannot escape for a while. If we always knew white lies are not necessary in specific circumstances, life would be a lot easier. Apparently he felt there was a risk. Maybe even the American friends of W.Jones simply did not want to be bothered either to be misused as some type of “collective American”, if they weren’t victims of empire propaganda like Londonistan, Europistan and Anti-Semitism=Anti-Americanism. But interesting to see that GF has a set of different rules for Americans versus Jewish Americans.

        Yes, maybe Phil missed a chance to find another interesting author for his site. Wonderful story, maybe even a parable for not taking anything for granted.

      • W.Jones
        December 19, 2013, 1:44 am

        Yes, “they” did not want to be… misused as some type of “collective American”, if they weren’t victims of empire propaganda like Londonistan, Europistan and Anti-Semitism=Anti-Americanism.

        One time, trying to avoid the problems, I said I was Estonian, and the stranger retorted: “Oh, you Estonians are no good!”

      • just
        December 15, 2013, 4:33 pm

        I still meet people who tell me they are from Persia…

        Sad, but true.

        What a wonderful read, Phil. You have a gift. Thank you.

      • W.Jones
        December 15, 2013, 10:10 pm

        Yeah, I hear the Persian thing too. I guess they can say they are ethnic Persians, so it is not a lie.

      • just
        December 15, 2013, 11:54 pm

        I never saw it as a lie. I always see it as though they think they are approaching another stupid, glassy- eyed, stupid American.

        Thankfully, I wasn’t raised stupid nor thirsty for koolaid.

      • LeaNder
        December 16, 2013, 7:53 am

        W.Jones, just, not sure what you could have in mind, but curious. Never happened to me, but we have quite a few Persians over here. And quite a few preferred to be called Persians to Iranians, at least that is how I remember it. And for whatever reason since I realized this, I prefer Persians to Iranians too. In my specific circle I always assumed it was some type of resistance against both Reza Shah and the post revolution rulers. Of course the etymology of Iran may have to do with it over here too. ;)

      • W.Jones
        December 19, 2013, 1:37 am

        I met a waitress at Dunkin Donuts a few days ago and she said she was from Iran.

        Prince of Persia was an awesome game, but very hard too!

  7. Cliff
    December 15, 2013, 2:13 pm

    I can’t imagine debating Israel/Palestine with an arch-Zio on a 7+ hour flight or however long it was.

    It was a smart move to lie. You played the odds correctly but ran into the exception.

    • W.Jones
      December 15, 2013, 3:17 pm

      You can always say you are not interested in talking about it. I went on a flight to East Europe once and met a guy who was into adopting orphans and thought spanking was a really really good thing. Yuck.

      I tried to tell him how would he like it if it happens to him? This is no way to treat people. (BTW we are talking about other people’s kids and hitting by someone who is not a real parent). He kept going on about it, so I just asked to stop talking about it. But then as the flight went on part of me wished that I could keep arguing with him, because I think it’s a bad situation.

      It’s like someone watching Oliver Twist and feeling bad for the kid but then thinking that the hidings in the movie were good, just for the wrong things.

      • German Lefty
        December 15, 2013, 4:24 pm

        we are talking about other people’s kids and hitting by someone who is not a real parent

        That does not make much of a difference. However, being hit by your parent is even worse than being hit by some other person. If anyone is expected to respect and protect the human rights of children, then it’s their parents. Abuse is most terrible when it’s committed by close family members because they are supposed to love you and it’s much harder to escape them.

      • W.Jones
        December 19, 2013, 1:58 am

        Hey GL.

        No, I do disagree with parents hitting their children. But maybe you would rather maybe hit your kid at some point in their life than have your kid end up in an impoverished orphanage and then end up getting adopted by a fundy who thinks hitting adopted orphans is a really really good thing.

        I am not justifying either act, but pointing out a similar troublesome setup to that Phil experienced.

    • Donald
      December 15, 2013, 6:32 pm

      “I can’t imagine debating Israel/Palestine with an arch-Zio on a 7+ hour flight or however long it was.”

      Neither can I. I’d rather volunteer to stand outside on top of the fuselage until the flight was over.

      Still, one just avoids the topic or brushes it aside, unless it turns out, as in this case, that the person is quite reasonable.

    • tree
      December 15, 2013, 7:14 pm

      You played the odds correctly but ran into the exception.

      Who knows? Perhaps if Phil had laid out his true story the woman on the plane might not have been so open with him about her opinions. In any case, it was just a little white lie, and not a manipulation, done in the interest of avoiding a possible unpleasantness on a long flight so no need to feel bad about it.

  8. MahaneYehude1
    December 15, 2013, 2:22 pm

    “Were they happy in Yemen?”
    “Oh yes. Very happy. They did well.”

    In 1947, after the partition plan, one year before the establishment of the state of Israel, 82 Yemenite Jews were killed and hundreds of Jewish homes were destroyed in Aden by Yemenite Muslim rioters, assisted by the local police force. Aden’s Jewish community was economically paralyzed, as most of the Jewish stores and businesses were destroyed.

    In 1922, the government of Yemen reintroduced an ancient Islamic law entitled the “orphans decree”. The law dictated that, if Jewish boys or girls under the age of twelve were orphaned, they were to be forcibly converted to Islam. The rule was based on the law that the prophet Mohammed is “the father of the orphans,” and on the fact that the Jews in Yemen were considered “under protection” and the ruler was obligated to care for them.
    http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/2.209/our-man-in-sanaa-ex-yemen-president-was-once-trainee-rabbi-1.255745

    “I study history; what do you think about the idea that Zionists bombed the synagogues in Arab countries to get the Jews to flee?”
    “I believe it. They needed bodies here. That’s all they wanted. Jewish bodies.”

    The first Yemenite Jews returned to their homeland, to the land of Israel, in 1881- 1882 (Yes, it is not a mistake, 1881-1882, many years before the establishment of the state of Israel). They walked all the way from Yemen to Israel. This wave continued till 1914, beginning of WW I. until this year, more than 10% of Yemenite Jews left Yemen to their homeland. until 1947, more than 35,000 Yemenite Jews lived in the land of Israel.
    http://cdn.timesofisrael.com/uploads/2013/06/Yemenites_go_to_Aden-e1371769445607.jpg

    • tree
      December 15, 2013, 6:14 pm

      From Etan Bloom’s Doctoral Dissertation on Arthur Ruppin, “Father” of the Jewish Settlements in Palestine:

      The clearest and most distinct example of the impact of Ruppin’s theory as to the bio-mental inferiority of the Oriental Jews can be seen in the way it was put into practice with the Yemenite Jews who arrived with the wave of immigration initiated and carried out by the PO in the years prior to World War I. This wave of immigration, designated in Zionist historiography as “Aliyat Yavneli,”131 was in its essence – at least from the point of view of the landowners and others who supported it – a colonialist act for the “importation of cheap labor,” as Shafir puts it, and its full description is beyond the scope of this work.

      Many historians have described the extreme suffering that these Yemenite Jews experienced upon their arrival, the economic exploitation, culture shock, humiliation and abuse which led eventually to their mental and physical collapse; the death rate of the Yemenites who arrived Palestine between the years 1912-1918 is estimated as between 30% to 40% (in some towns it reached almost 50%).132

      The main reason for bringing the Yemenite Jews to Palestine was the need of Ruppin and Aharon Eizenberg (1863-1931),133 the representative of the plantation owners, to find a solution to the problem of the labor market in the Zionist colony, i.e., the failure of the Ashkenazi workers to replace the Arab workers. However, even this economic operation was carried out within the framework of Ruppin’s eugenic planning. As we have seen, Ruppin did not believe that the Volkskörper could be constructed like a “mosaic” and he was unequivocally against mixing the white and black races. Like Haeckel, and like most eugenicists and colonialists, he believed that the black races were in a process of degeneration, and could not participate in the process of civilization, for such contact would only accelerate their extinction (Haeckel 1883, II, 325; 363).134 However, Ruppin did not need Haeckel to legitimize his attitude towards the Yemenites. There were several Jewish scholars who categorically regarded the Yemenites as blacks and interpreted their racial composition according to the prevailing theories concerning blacks. Ruppin clearly based his theory concerning the Yemenites on the works of the East European-Anglo-Jewish physician and biologist Redcliffe N. Salman (1874-1955), whom he quoted several times in his Sociology.

      http://www.tau.ac.il/tarbut/tezot/bloom/EtanBloom-PhD-ArthurRuppin.pdf

      And of course there is the “Yemenite Children Affair”

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yemenite_Children_Affair_(Israel)

      And the high doses of X-ray radiation that Yemeni immigrants were subjected to by Israel in the 1950s, ostensibly to fight ringworm

      http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/features/adding-insult-to-injury-1.205174

      • just
        December 15, 2013, 6:19 pm

        wow, tree.

        how very damning; yet this mindset has not been left behind it seems.

      • tree
        December 15, 2013, 6:46 pm

        Yes, and its illuminating as well. Ruppin believed that the Bedouins were the purist example of the “Semitic race”, which he thought was an inferior race. This explains so much of the origin of Zionist disdain for Arabs. (Ruppin thought Ashkenazi Jews were actually more of Hittite ancestry, and he differentiated them from Mizrahi Jews because of their presumed natural eugenic practices, supposedly leading to a more “pure race” among the Ashkenazim.)

      • MahaneYehude1
        December 16, 2013, 12:48 am

        @Just:

        Aren’t pogroms, killing of innocent people, burning homes, kidnapping and raping deserve some “wow”? Aren’t they “very damning” or you have no ability to see other sides but one selective side?

      • tree
        December 15, 2013, 6:37 pm

        More on the treatment of the Yemenis by the early Zionizts in Palestine:

        It must be emphasized that Ruppin’s perceptions and practices with regard to differentiation (and unification), were accepted by most of the agents in the field, proof that Ruppin was often, with his theories and practices, merely reinforcing and legitimizing the European immigrants’ biased and stereotypic view of the ‘Orientals.’ Their ambition to belong to the West made it necessary for them to deny the modern anti-Semitic perception of the Jews as “Oriental” or “Asiatic” strangers in Europe; indeed, the “modern Hebrew” identity in Palestine was perceived as a European identity.

        During and after World War I, the workers’ press developed a discourse which marked the Yemenites and other ‘Orientals’ as “quantity” and the Ashkenazim as “quality,” an opinion which made acceptable the salary disparity and other forms of discrimination.140 The Yemenites were paid what was, to all intents and purposes, a starvation wage. Prices were high, as was the rent demanded of them for even substandard accommodations such as stables (Shafir 1989, 103-104). Medical care was almost out of reach, “they were the last in line” (Goren 2005,210).141 The Ashkenazi workers did not include the Yemenites in their organizations or groups. They never went out on strike on the Yemenites’ behalf although, as we have seen, they were always ready and anxious to strike for anything concerning their national and social demands. Even in cases where the Yemenites tried to become part of national organizational frameworks they were rejected by the political parties and by the workers’ and guards’ organizations and kept at arms’ length from all the activities of the “cooperative” settlement.

        Footnote140: The average salary of an Arab worker was between 5-7 piasters, of a Yemenite 6.2-8 and of Ashkenazi workers 12.4 (Shafir 1989, 104).

        Footnote 141: In a meeting in 1915 of the finance committee of the PO, Ruppin opposed any medical help (in particular for the Yemenites). The only recorded reason he gave, which appears in the abbreviated protocol of that meeting, was that “it is against regulations” (CZA, L2/569).

        Etan Bloom, see link above.

      • just
        December 15, 2013, 6:53 pm

        wow again. So, the seeds of exceptionalism sown by some infamous Europeans and their compadres were adopted and perfected by the early zionists, or is it vice versa?

        (I am unfamiliar with the “PO”. Can you please inform me?)

      • tree
        December 15, 2013, 7:23 pm
      • just
        December 15, 2013, 7:31 pm

        Thanks tree. I am responding here to your explanation of PO.

      • tree
        December 15, 2013, 7:31 pm

        So, the seeds of exceptionalism sown by some infamous Europeans and their compadres were adopted and perfected by the early zionists, or is it vice versa?

        It was a prevalent thought among Europeans (and Americans of European ancestry) of the time period. Zionism was born of the polygenism, Social Darwinism, Lamarckism, and “Scientific” racism of the era, as well as the idea of “blood and soil”, or romantic, nationalism, as was German Nazism, which post-dated it.

      • MahaneYehude1
        December 16, 2013, 12:42 am

        @tree:

        Do you have something to say about the pogroms? about the killing of innocent people? about the kidnapping and raping of young Jewish girls? Maybe some condemnations, for instance?

      • Sumud
        December 16, 2013, 10:18 am

        Maybe some condemnations, for instance?

        Why should tree have to issue condemnations of any sort? It goes without saying that the behaviour you describe is reprehensible.

        I see you do not condemn the treatment doled out to Yemeni jews when they arrived in Israel.

        More to the point, why are you spamming the thread? The lady Phil spoke to on the flight said her family did well in Yemen and were happy there.

        Are you calling her a liar?

      • MahaneYehude1
        December 16, 2013, 1:06 pm

        @Sumud:

        Look, when a Yemenite Jewish woman lives in NY speaks against my country (“They needed bodies” – a very cruel argument) it is not different from what most of you are doing in this site. In my comment I showed that “They did well” was actually not correct. Yemenite Jews were under fear and persecutions for years. many of them were killed and many girls, mostly, under 12 years old, were kidnapped and raped.

        Now, I want to ask you: Why, after I wrote this historic fact, Tree has to write me that the Yemenite Jews were not treated well in Israel? Is this fact says that the persecutions, kidnapping and killing of the Jews in Yemen were OK? So, please, who is spamming the thread? It is not the first time. Always, when I write about Jews sufferings in any place in the world, people “remind” me other facts about “how we treat them”, without any little sympathy. They did it only to dull the facts I write (and do it when they have no good arguments). Then I have to condemn and be under “reprehensible”.

      • Bumblebye
        December 16, 2013, 10:20 am

        Mahane
        The perpetrators of those crimes are long dead. The Israeli crimes are ongoing, the perpetrators governing the country and making up its population. Or are you of the belief that historic crimes of previous centuries absolve you and yours of the current crimes?

      • MahaneYehude1
        December 16, 2013, 1:15 pm

        Bumblebye:

        The perpetrators of those crimes are long dead

        Yes, I agree with you. The perpetrators of those crimes are long dead as well as the perpetrators of the crimes against the Jews for many centuries in Russia, Spain, France, Germany and most European countries, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Libya and actually most Arab countries and many other places in the world. You correct, they all long dead. It is all history and we should forget those events. They all long dead!!!

      • Cliff
        December 16, 2013, 5:21 pm

        @Potato seller

        Why do we have to issue condemnations of pogroms?

        It goes without saying. It’s uncontroversial and there’s nothing to suggest that tree or any other person here would NOT issue a condemnation.

        Why don’t you condemn Jewish colonialism, nationalism, and apartheid?

        Oh wait, that’s something you won’t do because you ARE a colonist/nationalist/support of apartheid.

        Oh and a potato salesman too of course.

    • eljay
      December 16, 2013, 10:25 am

      >> The first Yemenite Jews returned to their homeland, to the land of Israel, in 1881- 1882 (Yes, it is not a mistake, 1881-1882, many years before the establishment of the state of Israel).

      1. Since there was no Israel, they could not have walked to Israel.
      2. Since they were not originally from Palestine, they could not have “returned” to Palestine.
      3. Since they were Yemeni, their homeland was Yemen, not Palestine.

  9. eljay
    December 15, 2013, 2:37 pm

    >> “You’re looking back at something awful. There’s a lot of wisdom in the story of Lot’s wife. She turned back to look and turned into a pillar of salt.”

    Lot’s wife was punished for a moment of curiosity, but neither Lot nor his daughters were punished for incest and fornication. The moral of the story: God is an asshole.

    As for looking forward, that’s a lesson Zio-supremacist Jews really need to learn.

    • Abuadam
      December 15, 2013, 6:47 pm

      eljay,
      don’t blame Lot’s daughters, remember Lot was willing to let his daughters get raped rather than making his guests uncomfortable, so when they did the nasty with their father they didn’t know better.
      Phil,
      you shoulda told her, your name is Ahmad or Mohammad that would have shut her up.

    • RoHa
      December 15, 2013, 9:53 pm

      OT, but the story of Lot is appalling.
      Lot has two daughters, and yet he persists in living in a city of vice.
      Two visitors arrive. Lot’s neighbours say “Send them out so we can shag them.” Lot offers his daughters instead. (Perhaps he is certain that the neighbours’ inclinations will keep the girls safe, but it sounds risky to me.)
      Then the visitors tell Lot to flee while they blow up the city. (Call the AFP National Security Hotline – 1800 123 400)
      It is claimed that Lot’s wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt. That looks like a bit of an overreaction from God, but who aside from Lot and his dodgy daughters could be witnesses? (Chief Inspector Clarke of the Yard should start asking a few questions.)
      Lot and his daughters go to another town (Zoar) but then left because he was afraid to live there. We are not told what he feared.
      They live in the wilderness. The story is that the girls got Lot so drunk that he didn’t know what he was doing. They did this twice, and each daughter got pregnant.
      But as many men know (to their regret) that, usually, when a man is so drunk that he doesn’t know what he is doing, he can’t do it. And even if Lot was an exception, it is unlikely that both girls got pregnant from just one go each.
      So reading between the lines, we come to a story that sounds like a tale from the backwoods of Arkansas. (And it’s time to bring in the Vice Squad.)

      And yet Lot is classed as a righteous man. 2 Peter 2:7-8.

      • just
        December 15, 2013, 11:58 pm

        rotflmao.

        Both of you– Abuadam and RoHa.

      • yonah fredman
        December 16, 2013, 2:51 am

        The story of Lot, his wife and daughters and the night of the destruction of Sodom, is one of the “great” stories of Genesis. The willingness of Lot to give his daughters to the wicked men of Sodom rather than give up his guests, is symptomatic of the high priority placed on protecting one’s guests in Lot’s priorities (and the priority on guests is something that Middle Eastern observers have noted time and time again.) The story of the incestuous origins of Moab and Amon (offspring of Lot’s daughters) might have been anti Moab or anti Amon propaganda by the Hebrew scripture writer. Abraham’s arguing with God seeking to protect Sodom, if there are 50, 45, 40, 30, 20 or 10 righteous men is one of the outstanding acts by Abraham. (It might not be self evident from the mere fact of the argument, although those who wish to condemn Abraham for his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, often juxtapose that obedience to the resistance he showed when presented with the news of the doom awaiting Sodom. But included with the narration from God’s point of view of why he shared the news with Abraham is the fact that it was not fit for God to keep the news from Abraham, for Abraham was destined to be great and commanded his house in charity and justice. This is in fact the highest praise that Abraham ever receives.) The angels who save Lot and destroy Sodom are two of the three angels that informed Abraham of the miraculous birth of Isaac and thus the two stories are intertwined.

        I was not aware of the praise of Lot in the book of Peter. The rabbis seem to be of mixed minds regarding him. A bit fearful of disparaging Abraham’s nephew, but in fact his willingness to move to a wicked city because the land there was rich, is in fact a morality judgment that Lot did not quite measure up. (In school 40 years ago, one student sought to draw a comparison between Noah and Lot, both survivors of cataclysms, both drunk and degraded in the aftermath of the cataclysms. An older student warned the younger student that Noah was righteous, whereas Lot was not.)

        The fact that “Don’t look back” is deemed best told as the shorthand, “Don’t be like Lot’s wife,” goes to show the power of the scriptures, particularly the book of Genesis.

      • just
        December 16, 2013, 7:45 am

        Well good golly, seems that Israel never treated a “guest” properly.

        They stab them in the back even while they take billions from them……………with a smirk.

        Very Old Testament, eh?

        (Shavit is smoking junk on MSNBC and sibilantly crying about the Iran “deal”.

      • eljay
        December 16, 2013, 8:04 am

        >> The fact that “Don’t look back” is deemed best told as the shorthand, “Don’t be like Lot’s wife,” goes to show the power of the scriptures, particularly the book of Genesis.

        The fact that “It’s okay to f*ck your father” is not deemed best told as the shorthand “Be like Lot’s daughters” goes to show the power of selectiveness of religious types.

      • yonah fredman
        December 16, 2013, 5:03 pm

        eljay- What resource is second to the bible in quotable quotes and current knowledge American secular knowledge? Shakespeare? Aesop’s fables? The Godfather? Casablanca? Yes the knowledge contained in the bible has been used for evil (as well as good, read Father Zosima’s last will and testament in The Brothers Karamazov), but it is a good chunk of the common knowledge of the western world.

        In particular I am attracted to the Hebrew version and specifically the sung version of the book of Genesis. When Lot hesitates to leave when the angels tell him that he must leave in order to survive, the word is sung with a rare shlishit, up and down the scale three times, indicating the hemming and hawing involved in the hesitation. (This same tune is sung when Joseph does not succumb to Potiphar’s wife’s seduction, indicative of thoughts in two different directions.)

        I have certain favorite days of the year due to Jewish celebrations and I enjoy reading in Hebrew various parts of the Bible and even hearing a piece of Talmud explicated upon, but I particularly like the book of Genesis in Hebrew. When I was young I needed to poke fun of the holes in the Bible and of the hypocrisy. Even today a sort of Mad magazine version of the events plays along side the reported version in my mind. (Think of Woody Allen and Bob Dylan on the near sacrifice of Isaac. Think of every New Yorker cartoon that depicts Adam and Eve in the garden with the snake and the apple.) But as I reread the Brothers Karamazov I do not deny myself the pleasure of reading and appreciating Genesis and other parts of the Old Testament. (I am reminded of the visiting chaplain who saw the Bible by Patton’s bed and asked him if he read the Bible and George C. Scott answers, “Every God damned day.”)

      • Philip Weiss
        December 16, 2013, 2:11 pm

        Thanks Yonah, that interests me, I am going to start by reading the actual story

      • eljay
        December 16, 2013, 5:16 pm

        >> Yes the knowledge contained in the bible has been used for evil … but it is a good chunk of the common knowledge of the western world.

        I didn’t say it wasn’t.

      • RoHa
        December 16, 2013, 6:47 pm

        “The story of Lot, his wife and daughters and the night of the destruction of Sodom, is one of the “great” stories of Genesis.”

        Genesis, and indeed the whole OT, is full of these grim tales.
        “Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.” [Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason ]

        Religious people have to work really hard at reconciling these stories with their natural sense of decency.

        “Abraham was destined to be great and commanded his house in charity and justice. This is in fact the highest praise that Abraham ever receives.”

        Pimping out his wife, tossing his first son and the boy’s mother into the wilderness, ready to kill his second son at the command of the sky -demon! This counts as charity and justice?

        When more than half the world follows religions based on this character, it is a wonder that we can hold on to our humanity at all.

      • RoHa
        December 16, 2013, 6:55 pm

        “What resource is second to the bible in quotable quotes … and current Shakespeare?”

        I would have thought that the Bible was second to Shakespeare in terms of quotable quotes. Of course, they are mostly quotable because they were rendered into glorious Elizabethan prose.

        But that does not improve the low moral character of the stories.

  10. Frankie P
    December 15, 2013, 5:51 pm

    Phil:
    “A friend of mine explained this place a long time ago. Everyone in Israel is orthodox Jewish,” she said. “And I agree with that.”
    “Orthodox religious?”
    “No. Orthodox Jewish. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be there. They believe strictly in Judaism. It goes beyond religion.”

    I don’t know why you give these supporters of Gilad Atzmon thought an outlet for their ideas when you have banned the man himself. This is classic!

    Frankie P

    • Shmuel
      December 16, 2013, 2:02 am

      Frankie,

      If this woman was “channelling” anyone, it was Arendt, not Atzmon. Of course there is a Jewish identity beyond religion, and of course this is the basis (not the equivalent) of Jewish nationalism.

      • MRW
        December 16, 2013, 2:34 am

        Shmuel, [OT] you read Etymologicon yet? Mark Forsyth. If not, do. A wordsmith’s cocktail.

      • Shmuel
        December 16, 2013, 2:48 am

        Thanks, MRW. Looks like fun.

      • Danaa
        December 16, 2013, 4:03 am

        Shmuel, the jewish “identity beyond religion” is, fundamentally, a tribal one (though some may quibble, and say it’s culture, or ethnicity. But to a simpleton like me, it just sounds tribal). And that is kind of what Atzmon was talking about, dubbing this concept “Jewish-ness (a word that, alas, was already taken, hyphen notwithstanding). Of course, Atzmon went on to label this entity an “ideology”, which is where I part ways with him, since I reserve that word for things a bit more political.

        Now, the woman-on-the-plane’s reference to “orthodox Jewish” was an interesting choice of words. To me that starts to at least suggest where the problem might be with israel – cf., more of a cult rather than mere tribe. I say that because i can easily see using such a wording in other contexts, say “orthodox mormon”, or “orthodox christian’ (oops, that’s already taken too, darn). Also, because sometimes it seems as if the israeli being (whatever that is) forever attempts to pressure other jews-in-the-world to join the cult, even as those “other jews” (-in-the-world) prefer to just stay a happy little tribe tied together rather loosely with a rather stretchy string. Funny tribe too – with multiple, often conflicting ideologies. Cults OTOH, tend to lose the comedy (come to think of it, did we ever see a Mormon comedian?).

        A few new good words is all we need, I says. Perhaps, MRW’s suggested reading could help?

      • Shmuel
        December 16, 2013, 4:41 am

        the jewish “identity beyond religion” is, fundamentally, a tribal one (though some may quibble, and say it’s culture, or ethnicity. But to a simpleton like me, it just sounds tribal)

        Danaa,

        You are far from a simpleton – witness your skilfull use of the “to a simpleton like me” device ;-)

        Describing “the Jewish identity” (singular!) as fundamentally anything, tribal included, is reductive. I see no reason to confuse Jewishness (forgive me, but I find the hyphen superfluous) and Jewish nationalism — particularly when the nationalists themselves would like nothing better. The woman on the plane described Jewish nationalists as “Orthodox Jewish”, implying that there are other non-orthodox kinds of “Jewish” — as you go on to explain in the rest of your comment. Arendt seemed to view the “multiple, often conflicting ideologies” as part and parcel of Jewishness, with which she herself identified, although (as she explained to Scholem) she did not see herself as a member of a tribe.

        A few new good words is all we need, I says.

        I says the old ones will do nicely.

      • Citizen
        December 16, 2013, 7:44 am

        @ Danaa

        Re: “Cults OTOH, tend to lose the comedy (come to think of it, did we ever see a Mormon comedian?).”

        Yes, we did, and she’s lovely and funny: Elna Baker

  11. RoHa
    December 15, 2013, 10:02 pm

    ” I thought. If you get talking to her, don’t give her anything. ”

    Don’t talk to her in the first place. Neither morality nor courtesy oblige you to enter into conversation with random fellow passengers. Put on the earphones and watch the inflight films, read a book, attempt the Sudoku in the inflight magazine (if someone else hasn’t already ruined it) and soak up the free booze and stun yourself into insensibility. All of these are preferable to conversation with strangers.

  12. jayn0t
    December 15, 2013, 10:40 pm

    I’m tempted to add a similar story about a cute Israeli/American Zionist shrink whom I met on a plane from New York to Portland who thought I was, quote, ‘adorable’, but she was already hooked up, however, she offered to introduce me to her undoubtedly equally delectable, but equally supremacist, girlfriend, but this was during the Gaza massacre of 2008/9, so I didn’t call back: this is the only time in my life I’ve opted out of a potential relationship for political reasons – what an idiot.

  13. Edward Q
    December 15, 2013, 11:41 pm

    Maybe the woman was lying to you. She might be such a good judge of character that she sized you up and told you what you wanted to hear.

  14. yonah fredman
    December 16, 2013, 2:56 am

    Interesting story.

    Minor grammatical quibble. Tefilin are a pair. She bought a pair of tefilin or she bought tefilin, not she bought a tefilin.

    • eljay
      December 16, 2013, 1:47 pm

      >> Minor grammatical quibble. Tefilin are a pair. She bought a pair of tefilin or she bought tefilin, not she bought a tefilin.

      FWIW, and according to Wiki, which cites Steinmetz, Sol (2005). Dictionary of Jewish usage: a guide to the use of Jewish terms. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. p. 165.:

      Although “tefillin” is technically the plural form (the singular being “tefillah”), it is loosely used as a singular as well.

      • yonah fredman
        December 16, 2013, 4:50 pm

        eljay- As far as usage is concerned. How many times in your life have you heard the word tefilin spoken in a sentence?

      • eljay
        December 16, 2013, 5:02 pm

        >> eljay- As far as usage is concerned. How many times in your life have you heard the word tefilin spoken in a sentence?

        What matters is not how many times I’ve heard it spoken in a sentence, but how many times Phil Weiss and Sol Steinmetz have heard it spoken in a sentence.

  15. charlesfrith
    December 16, 2013, 9:17 am

    Superb writing. The sort of narrative that only authentic people can squeeze out.

  16. adele
    December 16, 2013, 6:18 pm

    In so many ways, and layer upon layer, this was a fascinating post to read. From the personal to the political, there were so many insightful gems that readers will identify with. The hero of the story is the aptly named “Wise Woman”, she had the courage of her convictions to be frank and straightforward with her thoughts, with a complete stranger nonetheless. And the anti-hero is our very own Phil :-) It takes an introspective purveyor of truth to reflect on this interaction and express the lessons learned. A truly wonderful piece of writing that expanded my horizons.

  17. Annie Robbins
    December 16, 2013, 6:27 pm

    this was one of those out of the ballpark wonderful posts phil.

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