And About That File in Your Cake…

Gainesville, Fla.

As a retired Florida correctional officer, I laughed when I read Vote Fair spokesman Tim Curtis’s tale of a wife giving her imprisoned husband a ballot to fill out during a “conjugal visit” [Brentin Mock, “Florida’s Felonious Voting Trap,” Oct. 15]. There never have been conjugal visits in Florida and most likely never will be. Also, a ballot would not make it into the prison. Curtis’s comments aren’t surprising since lies are the norm with the Tea Party. I’ve been trying to register ex-felons here, and it is indeed a huge problem. I never understood why Republicans were so opposed to ex-felons voting. Now I understand the politics. Thanks.


Blasphemers Unite!

North Haledon, N.J.

Re Katha Pollitt’s “Blasphemy Is Good for You” [“Subject to Debate,” Oct. 15]: John Hockenberry is apparently unfamiliar with the meaning of free speech. It isn’t the right to say things that don’t offend anyone; it is the right to say really offensive things. That’s the whole point. The global initiative Hockenberry advocates would be nothing more than an international agreement to cave in to a tiny number of rioters and prevent anyone from saying anything that might offend their tender sensibilities. How can he not understand how bad his idea is?

As far as blasphemy is concerned, one of my favorite authors, Robert A. Heinlein, said it best: “Of all the strange ‘crimes’ that human beings have legislated of nothing, ‘blasphemy’ is the most amazing—with ‘obscenity’ and ‘indecent exposure’ fighting it out for the second and third place.” You don’t like remarks you consider blasphemous? Too damn bad; I don’t care. You don’t have the right to riot and murder because you’re upset. People who do that are barbarians, nothing more.


Zion Agonistes

Fairfield, Conn.

Bernard Avishai, in “A Tale of Two Zionisms” [Oct. 15], obscures a critical factor that united all political Zionists from their earliest years. All branches of their movement, including the liberal pluralists that Avishai contrasts with the militaristic “monists,” had to deal with the fact that an Arab people made up the overwhelming majority of the population of Palestine and were resistant to subordination and/or territorial displacement and dispossession. David Ben-Gurion offered a telling summary in the late 1930s: “We are not blind to the fact that Palestine is no void…. They [the Arabs] do not need to buy land and bring in Arabs from abroad. Everything is theirs but government, and it is government they are fighting for…. The Arabs already possess the land. They need neither laws nor administration to transfer it; only we do.”(Ben-Gurion, Rebirth and Destiny of Israel)

Theodore Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, was well aware of the problem of native peoples and the need for an imperial solution. “Infiltration is bound to end badly,” he wrote in The Jewish State (1896). “For there comes the inevitable moment when the government in question, under pressure of the native populace—which feels itself threatened—puts a stop to further influx of Jews. Immigration, therefore, is futile unless it is based on our guaranteed autonomy.” That “autonomy” (he speaks of a “state” and of “sovereignty over a neutral land” in other passages) would be guaranteed by the Ottoman Empire or by a European power or group. If the state should be in Palestine, “we would there form a part of a wall of defense for Europe in Asia, an outpost of civilization against barbarism. We should as a neutral state remain in contact with all Europe, which would have to guarantee our existence” (Arthur Hertzberg, ed., The Zionist Idea).


Avishai Replies


Professor Coury is, of course, right—as were Herzl, Ben-Gurion and Achad Haam for that matter—that the land was not empty and the rivalry for it would pose severe moral risks. But does this really mean, as Coury implies, that Zionist actions were unjustified or that the current occupation was foreseeable and, in a way, preordained?

Between 1882 and 1914, the Zionists assumed they could establish their “home” by acquiring property in land; in 1890, Palestine had under half a million Arabs and about 50,000 Jews. In 1922, after the Balfour Declaration and once the British Mandate was established, Britain offered a Legislative Council in which the Zionists would be easily outvoted. Weizmann accepted, which caused Jabotinsky to denounce him; Arab leaders said no, fearing this council would legitimize the mandate. In 1931, with Hitler gaining and Jews turning to Zionism more out of desperation than cultural revolution, Jabotinsky insisted that the Zionist Congress declare for a state. Ben-Gurion’s and Weizmann’s forces overwhelmingly blocked him, determined not to incite either Arabs (who were themselves streaming into a now booming Palestine) or the British—and Jabotinsky bolted. In 1934, Ben-Gurion tried to join a Saudi initiative to create a regional federation. In 1937, Ben-Gurion and Weizmann argued for accepting the Peel Commission’s offer of partition: a Jewish state about the area of the triangle made by London, Oxford and Cambridge. Only in 1942, with the Holocaust begun, did Zionism come out for statehood. In 1946, with millions murdered and nearly a quarter of a million Jews in European displaced persons camps, Zionists worked for a state through the United Nations. So did most of civilized humanity.

Professor Coury, you see, seems to believe what West Bank settlers believe: that if Zionists now have no right to Hebron, then they never had any to Tel Aviv. This formula assumes right has no relation to intention, reciprocal goodwill, desperation, tragedy or the principle of utility: it strips story out of history. Jean Valjean did not keep taking candlesticks after he became mayor. But if he had, would this have made him wrong to take them when he was starving?


A Girl of 14

Bettendorf, Iowa

A Girl of 14 has something to say,
“I want to learn. But I am afraid.”
A Girl of 14 has something to say,
“I am only a girl. Why should they hate?”
A Girl of 14 has something to say,
“I have my rights. I will be brave.”
A Girl of 14 has something to say,
“My name is Malala. I am willing to pay.”
A Girl of 14 has something to say,
“I was shot in the head by the Taliban today.”
All Girls of 14 have something to say:
“Thank you, Malala, inspirational sage.”


Happy Birthday

Eugene, Ore.

I have just celebrated my ninety-first happy birthday. If in November I find that Karl Rove, the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and a corrupt Supreme Court have bought my country, I don’t think I want to wait around to see what they do with it.