Jewish Journal

Letters to the Editor: Azerbaijan, ASA and the Bedouin plan

Posted on Jan. 3, 2014 at 10:39 pm

The Untold Story of a Brave Azerbaijani Jew

I’d like to express my gratitude for writing a detailed story about the Azerbaijani Jews in your article (“The Mysteries of Azerbaijan,” Dec. 20). 

I appreciate indication of historical facts. You should probably also know that Azerbaijani Jews bravely fought during the Nagorno-Karabakh War, and one of them — Albert Agarunov — is the best story ever told in Azerbaijan.

He was on a brave tank crew who disabled nine Armenian tanks. Upon your next visit, please visit his grave in the upper part of Baku. It’s one of the most visited sites in Azerbaijan.

Yusif Babanly, co-founder, U.S. Azeris Network

Great article by Rob Eshman on the Jews of Azerbaijan and the Red Village. Who knew? I must add a minor correction in the mention of Garry Kasparov (born Garik Weinstein). “Grandmaster” Kasparov was the World Chess Champion from 1985-2000 and was the highest-rated player in the world for 225 out of 228 months from 1986 until his retirement in 2005. He is considered by many to be the strongest chess player in history.

Ben Nethercot, Topanga

ASA Decision Creates Deep, Complex Rift

What is the editor’s point in publishing a pro/con piece on something as bigoted as the American Studies Association (ASA) decision to boycott professors of Israeli universities (“Should U.S. Academics Boycott Israeli Universities?” Dec. 20)? Is it freedom of speech, intellectual openness or something else? Had the Jewish Journal been publishing in Germany in 1936  when the Nuremberg Laws were enacted, barring Jewish professors from employment in German universities, would the Journal have published a pro and con on the merits of such a law for the sake of intellectual openness? Hopefully, it would have recognized venomous bigotry and called it so. By attempting to intellectualize the outrageously bigoted ASA resolution, the editors do nothing but grant it legitimacy.  Further, you choose as the voice against the resolution someone who agrees totally with the pro’s thesis of “Israel’s destructive occupation,” no matter what argument follows. What’s the point? Thus, one can’t help but wonder if its inclusion is a reflection of the Journal’s own sympathy with the substance of the resolution.

Benjamin Fass, Los Angeles

Parsing the Bedouin Future

While there is much to be criticized in Israeli policy toward the Bedouin, Deborah Brous’ romanticized vision of a long-term future for Bedouin “living off the grid” is not a viable alternative (“Stop Prawer-Begin Plan for Bedouin Resettlement,” Dec. 13). While some leaders might express this preference, I am skeptical that a future of illiteracy for their children, polygamy and honor killings is a future most would want, given the alternative. I doubt it is a lifestyle she would find acceptable if Israel tolerated it for any other part of its population. The same goes for lack of a stable water supply, electricity or sewage. No government in the world could provide proper infrastructure to isolated villages of 30 families.

I spend a fair amount of time in Beersheba and surrounding areas. Virtually all of the Arab population in Beersheba is of Bedouin descent. I have met with a highly educated Bedouin woman working to bring basic standards of equality for women to the Bedouin community, urban and rural. I have worked with the bicultural Jewish/Arab school, Hajar, in Beersheba. I have seen the large number of Bedouin women in traditional dress at Ben-Gurion University and the Open University developing skills to join the mainstream workplace. I have been in the malls of Beersheba while these women and their families enjoy the benefits of life “on the grid.” I have also worked with the Ayalim group, involved in both establishing their villages in the Negev and volunteering to teach agricultural skills and literacy to their Bedouin neighbors.

To propose a long-term lifestyle guaranteeing poverty, illiteracy and not even a semblance of equality among men and women is not a reasonable alternative future to more enlightened Israeli government policies providing life “on the grid.”

Lawrence Weinman, Los Angeles/Jerusalem

Devorah Brous responds:

Mr. Weinman’s vision is no less romantic than mine — a flourishing Negev. However, we disagree that extricating Bedouin from their lands — their only viable asset — is justifiable simply because their ideals don’t match Mr. Weinman’s. Lambasting Bedouin for their cultural practices, removing them from their lands and then tossing the bone of charitable tutoring by young Zionists is well intentioned, yet absurd in the face of wholesale demolitions of unrecognized villages. Make no mistake, the issue at hand is Israel’s discriminatory Negev development and afforestation that is evacuating 40,000 citizens from their homes against their will, not Bedouin honor killings or their polygamy. How, once they are crammed into ghettos, living next to vibrant, fully resourced Jewish-only neighborhoods, can there be a spirit of coexistence among Negev Jews and Bedouin?

Investments in the Negev will not thrive unless all the region’s inhabitants have sustainable access to all civil rights Israel affords its citizens. If we continue to play a paternalistic zero-sum game with Bedouin resettlement where Jews hold all the cards, it will surely prove a lose-lose for all sides.

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