Wednesday 30 March 2016

Israeli and Vegan? I Bet You Hate All Palestinians

How do you know if someone is a vegan?

Don't worry. They'll tell you. And they'll probably tell you again. And just as you're leaving, they'll probably mention it again.

How do you know if someone is an anti-Semite?

Don't worry. They'll tell you. Not by using those exact words, that would be too simple. You have to work it out by reading between the lines of their obsession with and hatred of all things Israel. You have to decipher the criticism of anything Israel does but sure enough, once you have done that, there it will be. A hatred bordering on the irrational. An obsession bordering on the psychotic.

I recently stumbled across an article in Warwick's Globalist. You can read it here. Since I left Warwick last year, I've stumbled across articles in the Globalist that have increasingly left me shaking my head. This one is no different. Vegan-washing is the latest accusation thrown at Israel and, presumably, "pro-Israel" activists. That somehow anyone who happens to note Israel's animal rights record is not just noting Israel's animal rights record. No, instead, it is some cynical ploy to divert attention from war crimes and occupation and all these other charges levelled against Israel.

This is an interesting, if bizarre, assertion. Let's deal with it point by point:

First, the author links us to a BBC radio show, aired during 'Veganuary'. Let's not forget what Veganuary is. A month about Veganism and raising awareness and encouraging people to attempt it for a month and, presumably, continue beyond. It is not a month about Israeli war crimes. Or the IDF's "illegal and brutal occupation". Or "illegal settlements". No, believe it or not, it is a month about Veganism. It is not, then, at all surprising that the BBC should run a piece about Veganism. It is not surprising that it should do so and interview an Israeli. And, lastly, it is not surprising that it should run a piece about Veganism, interview an Israeli and choose to focus on Veganism. In fact, the opposite would have been surprising. Imagine the following:

RADIO PRESENTER: Welcome to today's show on Veganism in the IDF

ISRAELI: Hello, thanks for having me

RP: First, can you please explain to my why you are engaged in a brutal and, should I also say, illegal occupation of Palestine?

I: Sorry, what?

RP: Do you personally believe all Gazans should be murdered or do you just act on orders?

I: Erm...

RP: Please, all my listeners who have tuned in to hear about Veganism would like to know if you support the mass displacement and murder of Palestinians. Oh and that illegal occupation. Have I mentioned that yet? Because on this show about veganism, I'd be damned if I don't discuss the occupation.

Do me a favour. A show about Veganism, in a month dedicated to Veganism, is not vegan-washing if it discusses, wait for it, Veganism.

Second, the author, in making the claim about 'the media' links us to, The Times of Israel, Ha'aretz and the BBC, amongst others. I could easily have found links on these websites condemning Israel for all of the charges the author levels. Accusing 'the media' of vegan-washing by publishing articles on Veganism but not mentioning the occupation would be as absurd as me publishing an entire article condemning the BBC for reporting an Israeli strike on Gaza and not mentioning the fact that my cousin's next door neighbour's cat is a vegan. (For the record, I have no idea if my cousin's next door neighbour's cat is vegan, but I presume, as part of the Israeli PR machine, if s/he isn't, s/he will be shortly.)

Third, the author condemns organisations like PETA for 'flocking to commend Israel for championing the vegan movement'. As if it is a crime for an animal rights organisation to maybe suggest that other armies should be more vegan-friendly. Trust me, you can call for armies to be more vegan-friendly, like the IDF, and condemn an occupation. I presume the author believes that PETA should add a caveat: Please be more vegan-friendly, but do us a favour and don't also brutally occupy Palestine. To support the IDF for its vegan-friendly attitude is not to devalue the Palestinian cause or plight. One can both praise the IDF for being vegan-friendly and either a) remember you're an animal rights organisation and steer clear of political conflicts that have nothing to do with you and/or b) support the Palestinian cause.

Fourth, the Times of Israel is accused of arguing that being a vegan is somehow written into Jewish Law. To argue that because of the prohibition on mixing MEAT and milk, Jews are more accepting of substitutes is not to suggest that 'accommodating a vegan diet is somehow written into Jewish religious constitution'. Read the sentence again. Mixing meat and milk. The prohibition is on the mixing of the two, not the eating of either. The assertion being made is that Jews are used to milk substitutes, which is true. Many Israeli/Kosher desserts do not contain milk - ironically, given the author's accusation, because of our preference as a culture for meat meals. Find me a non-kosher, milk containing dessert and I will show you a milk-free Kosher version. It is remarkably easy to give up milk as a Jew. (Until Shavuot when we are basically obligated to indulge in as much cheese as possible.) To point this out is not to say that being a vegan is written into Jewish Law, but rather than from the starting point of having an abundance of  milk-free desserts, becoming a vegan is easier. The J-Post article is absurd. I reject its contents for exactly the same reason I reject the content of the Globalist article, ironically.

Finally, the author ends in typical fashion for an article of this type. We get an: "I am sure Israelis do not support the occupation" and an: "I am sure the vegans in Israel have honourable intentions".  G_D forbid the Israeli media report this. G_D forbid the IDF accommodates this. G_D forbid, indeed. No, apparently, doing this is just a cynical attempt to deflect attention from war crimes. When the Israeli media reports that there are Israeli vegans, it is not reporting a mere fact, it is deflecting attention from the occupation it reported in other articles. When the IDF accommodates vegans, it is not just accommodating vegans, it is making the argument, "We must be a good army, we make it easy for vegans to kill Palestinians too."

Israel either kills Palestinians and brutally occupies their land or deflects attention from this fact. Israelis who are vegans might have honourable intentions, indeed, they might even do the honourable thing and object to the occupation and all the other things I, the self-appointed authority on morality, think are terrible. However, we cannot discount the fact that they might just be doing it to deflect attention from Israeli war crimes.

This is the argument being made. It is an argument as illogical as it is wrong; as hateful as it is misguided. It is an argument that makes it impossible for an Israeli to be coherently a vegan. I mean, they might have opposing political views to you. Shudder at the thought. And it is an argument that whispers anti-Semitism as quietly as possible, hoping the screams of I am just pro-Palestinian and engaging in legitimate criticism of Israel where she can do no right, only wrong will drown out the whispers. Not this time Clare, not this time.

Thursday 17 March 2016

Paris, Ankara and Moral Hypocrisy

I was one of the many who, with the best of intentions, changed their profile picture in response to the tragic events in Paris last November. I also posted a status, furiously dismissing allegations of moral inconsistency or hypocrisy when it came to our response to Paris compared with, for example, Beirut. I was livid that somehow what was important in the wreckage of the Paris attacks was whether I had changed my profile picture to a Lebanese flag. I think it is possible for me to think that the Paris attacks are tragic but also think that the Beirut attack was tragic at the same time, whether or not I change my profile picture for both or neither or just the one. And guess what, I did. I can do this amazing thing where I give a damn about innocent people dying everywhere in the world whenever I hear about it.

I wish Facebook had stayed completely out of it. I was the first to admit to friends that evening that the reason I changed my profile picture, or at least part of it, was because when you change it back, there is a chance for extra likes. Had Facebook given me the option to change it for Beirut or any other country, then I probably would have. Which brings me to now and an article I saw pop up on my Facebook by someone I have seen but never met and heard speak but never spoken to. It was about Ankara and the tragic events that unfolded there. The basic premise is this: I am a terrible person because I changed my profile picture back in November but I have not now. That, for me, brown lives matter less. I agree with the author in part. Once Facebook has started giving us this option to change profile pictures, it seems odd to pick and choose. We should have had the Ivorian flag option. We should have daily Iraq flag options. Heck, we should have an Israeli flag option. And yes, we should have had the Ankara flag option. There would be an almost endless stream of profile-picture-changing-opportunities, every time humans prove their capacity for complete and utter inhumanity...Ping. Another Facebook prompt. Rather, Facebook should back off. I hope not giving me the Ankara option is the beginning of a change in policy, is Facebook stopping this absurd foray into current affairs.

But back to the article in question. I reject its central premise. I can guarantee the author that I do not devalue 'brown' lives. I do not think the events that unfolded in Ankara are any less tragic, shocking, disgusting and so on than those in Paris. I mourn the loss of innocents in Turkey. The loss of innocents in the Ivory Coast. The loss of innocents everywhere. I am sure no one would question me on this. The point being made is more subtle. It is not that I do not care. It is that I care more about white lives than brown lives. The author is, of course, correct, as I have said, that it is wrong that Facebook has not allowed the Ankara option. But he is wrong to then jump to this endorsing a narrative of white supremacy and imperialism.

He is wrong because if he is correct, he is guilty of it himself. When he tells us which lives we have no intention of devaluing, he makes a curious inclusion and curious omission. That being the inclusion of Palestinian and the omission of Israeli. The inclusion and omission would have been equally curious the other way round, of course. But to mention one and not the other, on the author's own logic, is to be guilty of devaluing the lives of Israelis, Jewish and Arab, currently being taken with a brutal regularity by terrorism in Israel. Obviously, the author is under no obligation to mention every single group of people whose lives are being taken but not represented in social media coverage. That would be absurd. But to specifically mention Palestinian lives and not Israeli is as wrong as it would have been had he mentioned specifically Israeli lives and not Palestinian.

I am willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt. He does not mean to devalue the lives of Israelis. He mourns equally the deaths of innocent Israelis as he does those in Ankara, despite his neglecting to mention it. Perhaps he should climb down from the moral high ground and give the rest of us the benefit of the doubt too?

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Breaking the Stigma

It's hard not to let something like anxiety define who you are. It's hard because it begins to take over your life, from parents who are so concerned they seem to serve merely as a reminder that something is wrong rather than a comfort to the demands made of you by a therapist whether that be filling in behavioural chain analysis forms in-between meetings or just trying to remember certain feelings you have had. It's hard because it's difficult to separate yourself from that person who suffered from a panic attack or anxiety or, in my case, lost his voice. It's difficult to convince yourself that it's okay now. Or that you're through the worst of it. Not just because there are no guarantees that you are. There are constant reminders. The sudden feeling of not being able to breathe or forgetting the word you wanted to say and it feeling like a stutter. Or just feeling a bit panicky and worrying, for a split second, that this feels like the last time. 

They all serve as constant reminders that you are less than perfect but less than perfect in a way that is not seen as normal. Because we are all not perfect, that goes without saying. But some imperfections are more acceptable than others. Some imperfections are more understood than others. Some imperfections are just more "normal" than others, in the figurative sense of the word. Because mental health issues are normal. They are common and vast numbers of us will suffer from mental health issues at some point in our lives. But, for some reason, it is not a normal imperfection. Mental health issues are not fully understood, hardly productively discussed and rarely effectively engaged with as an issue. Despite how common they are. And by less than perfect, I include, of course, just not good enough. A feeling that somehow being depressed or having anxiety or suffering from panic attack means you just are not good enough.

I saw and shared a post on Facebook recently that neatly sums this up. Its caption was the following quotation from Kevin Breel:

"We live in a world where if you break your arm, everyone runs over to sign your cast, but if you tell people you're depressed, everyone runs the other way. That's the stigma. We are so, so so accepting of any body breaking down other than our brains. And that's ignorance. That's pure ignorance, and that ignorance has created a world that doesn't understand depress, that doesn't understand mental health. And that's ironic to me, because depression is one of the best-documented problems we have in the world, yet it's one of the least discussed. We just push it aside and put it in a corner and pretend it's not there and hope it'll fix itself"

It won't fix itself. If you suffer from mental health, you know that from experience. I had my first notable panic attack in America last June. I am still receiving bills and payment requests from American hospitals. I have had three or perhaps even four or five since, each of varying degrees of seriousness. I've been in hospitals, I've seen doctors, I've been prescribed medication, I've been told my stutter is related to anxiety, I've been told the exact opposite. I've sat with a GP who seemed that she could not care less that someone was sat in front of her reduced to communicating by writing down what he wanted to say. I forget the time of my appointment, but I can only imagine it was just before lunch time and she was especially hungry because I have never been rushed out of a room with such fervour. Despite meeting with her over 4 weeks ago, I still have not been contacted by the NHS Mental Health Service, which probably says just as much about the lack of funding as it does about the ignorance about the immediacy of these problems. 

I've been lucky to have had people who did not run in the other direction, who were very much there and maybe they did not understand, but that they tried was more than enough. Some people are not so lucky. That needs to change. If you ever need someone to listen to you or to talk to or heck, you just need someone to sit with you, then please just message me. Anytime. 

I will leave you with some words from Stephen Fry: 

"If you know someone who's depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn't a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.

Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness and loneliness they're going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It's hard to be a friend to someone who's depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest and best things you will ever do."