Posted by Avi Davis
It seems that the State of Israel also has its thought police.
In early October, Dr. Gabi Avital, the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Education, was fired from his job after giving an interview in which he said, among other things, that computers were sometimes a crutch for children, preventing them from learning math skills, and that Darwinism was an unsatisfactory explanation for how the world came to be.
Avital’s views were apparently well known in the scientific community but Maa’ariv, the country’s second largest Hebrew newspaper, decided to give them a sensational spin. He got the front page treatment and was subject , over the next several days, to a unending stream of abuse through letters and follow up editorials.
Compounding Mr. Avital’s sins was his insistence that there is no established scientific nexus between global warming and carbon emissions. In the same interview he stated:
“There is no evidence to correlate between the concentration of carbon dioxide and the rise in temperature. On the contrary, Al Gore’s movie (“An Inconvenient Truth”) showed how the rise in temperature preceded the rise of carbon dioxide.”
One cannot imagine running afoul of three more sacrosanct scientific certitudes. Under unrelenting pressure Avital’s boss, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, felt compelled to relieve him of his responsibilities but not before explaining that Mr. Avital’s dismissal had nothing to do with the expression of his views. This , of course, retains the quaint facade that freedom of expression on these central issues regarding our past and future existence is still widely tolerated.
Avital’s experience parallels that of hundreds of other scientists throughout the West who have dared challenge ‘the consensus’ and state contrarian positions against mainstream views.
But the crackdown on Avital, one of the most senior scientists in a government position anywhere in the world to be summarily dismissed in this manner, is a warning sign of creeping intolerance that will end up not only stifling scientific debate but almost any debate at all.
For the fact is that Darwinist theory and anthropogenic global warming theory are both full of holes and science has not fully supported nor vindicated them. To challenge either does not make you either a supporter of intelligent design nor of creationism. Nor does it make you a brain dead skeptic, as so many supporters of the two theories may wish to paint you. In fact it makes you part of an ongoing tradition of inquiry and free thought.
It is not going beyond the bounds of scientific decency to state that challenge to generally accepted scientific theories is healthy and necessary for any vigorous, progressive democracy.
Answering the questions of the origins of life in particular is one of the most important scientific inquiries that could be conducted in a democracy – for to know where we are going as a species, it is vital to know where we came from. How something arises from nothing; how inorganic matter transforms into organic matter or where the ‘information’ which builds our DNA arises, cannot be questions that scientists or laymen turn away from for fear or crossing a illusory boundary between science and religion. Is God – or some higher intelligence- to be found on the other side of the fence. Who knows? But the journey there cannot be derailed because of the fear of what might be discovered.
Obtaining the truth must be the ultimate goal of any civilized society. In that quest, we defeat ourselves by silencing the voices of those who question, prod and challenge. Many of our scientists, grown fat on grants, public acclaim and government handouts have become too comfortable with supposed accepted science. Shaking them out of their lethargy is certainly a job for a chief scientist of a Ministry of Education. It is too bad that political leaders in Israel do not recognize it.
11.15.10 at 2:46 pm |
10.26.10 at 11:08 am | It seems that the State of Israel also has its. . .
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October 11, 2010 | 10:44 am
Posted by Avi Davis
The resumed Israeli-Palestinian peace process is not four weeks old and it seems to have already been reduced to the realm of a Gilbert and Sullivan farce. Utilizing the issue of the West Bank settlement construction freeze as a point of contention, the two sides now appear to be negotiating over whether to negotiate, with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, acting as a harried go-between, frantically seeking a breakthrough, just on the issue of whether the two sides can be coerced to meet face to face again.
The reasons for the impasse are ostensibly clear: neither the Israeli leadership nor the Palestinian wishes to be seen as weak by bowing to the others’ demands on settlements. But a more incisive observation would be that progress in talks will not occur because the results might actually shatter the peace.
This might sound like an absurdity to some, but the facts are on the ground: Besides the murderous assault on an Israeli family near Hebron on September 5, violence on the West Bank has been so minimal over the past two years that Israel has willingly reduced the strength of its security apparatus there. Palestinians can now travel more freely between the territories and Israel proper. In fact, not since the mid-1980s has there been such freedom of movement on both sides.
This is set in the context of the unprecedented economic boom occurring on the West Bank and Gaza. Housing prices in Ramallah have risen nearly 30% in the past twelve months and housing starts are the envy of any Western country. The Nablus stock market, after Shanghai, was the second best-performing in the world in 2009. Both Nablus and Ramallah boast gleaming new cinemas, where the latest Hollywood hits are played and the Nablus venue even hosted a film festival in June of last year.
On September 6, Dr. Oussama Kanaan, the International Monetary Fund’s chief of mission and resident representative for the West Bank and Gaza, reported that West Bank growth in the first quarter of 2010 was a staggering 11%.
Even more astounding are the figures for Gaza. According to Kanaan, the Gaza Strip is undergoing a similar boom with a 14% growth for the first quarter. Contrary to media reports of destitution and mass starvation, the urban areas of Gaza are bustling with life, with new restaurants and hotels opening and over the summer, the coast filled with beach goers. No one has produced credible evidence of mass shortages of anything.
In June 2009, the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl related how Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a moment of rare candor, had told him why he had turned down Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2007 to create a Palestinian state on 97% of the West Bank. “In the West Bank we have a good reality,” Abbas explained. “The people are living a normal life.”
He might have also added that the maintenance of the conflict is good for business. The new housing boom benefits mostly not ordinary Palestinians (the Palestinian jobless rate still hovers around 25% and is supported by foreign aid) but rather elite leaders who own the major Palestinian trucking, cement and construction companies in the region. The reinvigorated construction industry in the Jewish settlements, dormant now for ten months, is also a harbinger of business for the Palestinians who provide sizable construction supplies and labor for these projects.
It is clear then that the Palestinians have entered into a comfortable, if less than open modus vivendi with their Israeli adversaries. It is only the guileless Obama Administration that fails to appreciate this reality. Insisting that the two sides work out their political differences, only serves to irritate open wounds and harden entrenched positions from which neither side, for domestic political reasons, is ever likely to retreat.
With the threat of a nuclear Iran giving rise to tacit military cooperation between Israel and other moderate Arab states, Hamas hemmed in and the West Bank Palestinian leadership in thrall to their new found prosperity, the Arab-Israeli conflict is beginning to look more manageable – and even more harmonious – than at any time in recent memory.
Is that peace? Perhaps not. But it is a long way from open conflict. And in a region of the world where the dogs of war are ever ready to tear each other to shreds, these sleeping dogs might be best left to lie.
October 6, 2010 | 10:07 am
Posted by Avi Davis
It would be fair to say Roger Waters knows a thing or two about walls. After all, he has been singing about one in particular for nearly thirty years.
The Wall, Waters’ 1980 opus with his former band Pink Floyd, was designed as a study in rock star alienation. Over the course of 26 songs and nearly two hours of music, Waters (whose songwriting dominates the album) pours out his contempt for aga parenting, fame, consumerism, the British education system, the judiciary, the police, the British government- in fact, just about everything and everybody that moves and breathes.
This “wall,” however, was not conceived as a physical object (at least, as revealed in the album’s printed lyrics) but a metaphorical barrier that the album’s protagonist ( cloyingly referred to as ” Pink”) builds to protect himself against the assaults on his dignity.
Needless to say, the album is unremittingly bleak and a difficult listen for even the most dedicated of Pink Floyd fans.
Just as well, because the album has never made too much sense. Waters is unable to cleave to a single concept and loses track of his theme as his emphasis shifts from an exploration of personal crisis to ascerbic political commentary.
The Wall, in short, is a self indulgent mess and should have been pared down by at least an hour to make any cogent sense.
Nevertheless, Waters remains remarkably uncritical of his vaunted masterpiece – mainly because he continues to squeeze such great artistic and political mileage out of it.
For instance in the 1980s, he used The Wall to symbolize the the Berlin Wall and until this day pompously believes that his album – and its great coda- ” Tear Down the Wall” had quite a lot to do with the fall of that cold war monument. He regularly invokes the Wall’s imagery to defy the policies of Western governments, whom he seems to believe are as iniquitous as any dictatorship, building walls of their own to spiritually imprison their people.
That peculiar facility, to discern the seeds of fascism flowering in the bosom of every democracy, does not belong to Roger Waters alone. In fact, almost every rock star who has something political to say about the West, regularly inveighs against democratic governments and their leaders.
But no rock star of Waters’ stature has quite used his art to so pointedly to attack the Jewish state. From the early 80s onwards, Waters was a vocal opponent of the State of Israel’s policies, decrying the first Lebanon War, Israel’s defensive policies during the First and Second Intifadas and most recently Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
Of course ‘the Wall’ imagery comes in mighty handy in Israel too. At his concerts (and one in particular in the West Bank in 2006) he demanded the Israeli government tear down the security barrier that has effectively barred Palestinian suicide bombers from entering the country for the past five years. He has turned a deaf to the statements of his own Israeli fans who have pleaded with him to examine the other side of the story.
He has now taken his objection to Israeli policies to high art. In a video montage during the song Goodbye Blue Sky performed on his current tour, a bomber is seen deploying it payload in the form of crosses, crescents, Stars of David and then dollar signs. The fact that the dollar signs follow the Stars of David has enraged many Jewish organizations who see in it an invocation of an old antisemitic trope.
When confronted in a recent (September 14) Rolling Stone interview that this coupling might be considered a violation of acceptable speech codes, Waters just shrugged it off, suggesting it was a mere coincidence.
Yet Waters was not so blase about other aspects of his show or its promotion that might have been viewed as crossing the line.
In an incident in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles, Waters’ crew apparently defaced a memorial to the late Los Angeles singer Elliot Smith with a wheat paste slogan decrying war. The rock star was soon full of apologies: “It was absolutely an accident,” Waters said. “I didn’t want to disrespect Elliott Smith’s fans, and I’ve instructed (the team) to remove the wheat paste immediately. It was a random pasting in the normal course of this, and I want to make it public that we had no intent to offend or cover up something precious.”
Similarly, just before opening night on the U.S. leg of his tour, Waters was alerted by his crew and set designer that if the singer was seen strutting about in a trench coat evoking the Third Reich, it might appear that his character had actually turned fascist. It was quickly decided to put a tailor’s dummy on stage, allowing Waters to remove the coat and step out of his imaginary persona.
Oh, so sensitive is Roger Waters. Isn’t it a wonder that being so contrite over tarnishing the legacy of a dead singer or of implying that he endorses fascist behavior, that this altruistic rock star cannot yet bring himself to address the sensitivities of the Jewish people or consider both sides of the story in the Arab-Israeli conflict?
It should really be no surprise. Most of our rock stars remain quietly and determinedly ignorant of actual facts – whether it be Bono ( of U2) whose incessant campaign for African debt relief flies in the face of abundant evidence that debt relief would only enrich African oligarchs – or Paul McCartney, who two months ago suggested that former president George W. Bush, while in office, rarely read anything (despite being married to a librarian and having read, by his own admission, several hundred books during his eight year tenure).
Wonder of wonders then it is Roger Waters, as far as Israel goes, who has truly built a wall around himself. On his visit to Israel in 2006, he reportedly refused to meet with Israeli leaders and disregarded any attempt by his own Israeli fans to provide him with extra information that might contribute to a balanced view of the conflict.
Tear down the wall, indeed.