It seems rather obtuse for someone to resign from a foundation which bears their name, but in some circumstances it seems entirely justified. This is the tack taken by University of Rochester president Joel Seligman in a terse statement, describing his reaction to the recent resignation of Arun Gandhi from the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Non-Violence (which is now situated at the University of Rochester):
I was surprised and deeply disappointed by Arun Gandhi’s recent opinion piece in the Washington Post blog, “On Faith.” I believe that his subsequent apology inadequately explains his stated views, which seem fundamentally inconsistent with the core values of the University of Rochester. In particular I vehemently disagree with his singling out of Israel and the Jewish people as to blame for the “Culture of Violence” that he believes is eventually going to destroy humanity. This kind of stereotyping is inconsistent with our core values and would be inappropriate when applied to any race, any religion, any nationality, or either gender.
University presidents are a curious breed, in large part tasked with finding big donors and implementing ‘big picture’ programs across entire educational institutions. As a result, they are sometimes easy targets for backlash–I remember the former President of my own alma mater, declaring at a commencement speech that all previous graduating classes amounted to “mush in, mush out” and was hounded from that post (directly into a cushy job in the Business School). It seems unlikely, however, that Mr. Seligman will face any sort of flak for his official statement on Arun Gandhi’s resignation.Examination of the original post does not seem to reveal a deep-seated hatred for world Jewry, as many of his critics in the comments section seems to suggest but a kind of benevolent academic buffoonery. Mr. Gandhi could have, however, made his comments a bit more nonspecific and less pointed–one doesn’t have to assume much to read the post and think Arun was simplistically blaming terrorism on the world’s Jewish population and accusing the same population of overplaying concerns which, in his opinion, have long exhausted their instructive content:
Jewish identity in the past has been locked into the holocaust experience — a German burden that the Jews have not been able to shed. It is a very good example of a community can overplay a historic experience to the point that it begins to repulse friends. The holocaust was the result of the warped mind of an individual who was able to influence his followers into doing something dreadful. But, it seems to me the Jews today not only want the Germans to feel guilty but the whole world must regret what happened to the Jews. The world did feel sorry for the episode but when an individual or a nation refuses to forgive and move on the regret turns into anger.
Taking the Norman Finklestein position certainly doesn’t help matters, as Finklestein found himself without a job due to the backlash generated by his strident condemnations of groups like the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Congress and individuals like Elie Wiesel and Alan Dershowitz for this alleged pimping of Holocaust suffering for material gain. It’s not a line that will start many conversations but rather many one-sided flames–even as a ‘thought experiment’ it seems too offensive to too many people to be a viable origin of constructive and instructive dialog. There are, however, some very obvious errors.
Gandhi’s statement is rife with analytical sinkholes: conflating Jewish identity with agreement with Israeli policy and actions, comparing the people of the occupied territories and Israel with fratricidal snakes, and creating a concept which he does not care to expand but quickly assigns to, “Israel and the Jews.”
The Jewish identity in the future appears bleak. Any nation that remains anchored to the past is unable to move ahead and, especially a nation that believes its survival can only be ensured by weapons and bombs. In Tel Aviv in 2004 I had the opportunity to speak to some Members of Parliament and Peace activists all of whom argued that the wall and the military build-up was necessary to protect the nation and the people. In other words, I asked, you believe that you can create a snake pit — with many deadly snakes in it — and expect to live in the pit secure and alive? What do you mean? they countered. Well, with your superior weapons and armaments and your attitude towards your neighbors would it not be right to say that you are creating a snake pit? How can anyone live peacefully in such an atmosphere? Would it not be better to befriend those who hate you? Can you not reach out and share your technological advancement with your neighbors and build a relationship? Apparently, in the modern world, so determined to live by the bomb, this is an alien concept. You don’t befriend anyone, you dominate them. We have created a culture of violence (Israel and the Jews are the biggest players) and that Culture of Violence is eventually going to destroy humanity.
It was here that my casual regard for Mr. Gandhi began to waver. What could he possibly think could be achieved by assigning blame to “the Jews” for a “culture of violence” that he doesn’t care to define? Especially if this “culture of violence” will bring an end to our world?
I had thought that proponents of non-violence would mostly speak in vague terms, extolling the virtues of non-violence over violence, invoking some sort of deity/divinity/saint to buttress their claims of the primacy of non-violent methods and leave it at that. How did Arun find his way into the very contentious topic of Israel? Again, I found a set of questions floating to the top of my mind:
Is non-violence really the best solution in all situations/contexts? If it is not, is there any point to stumping for the cause?
Is Arun Gandhi finished in the world of academic discourse? (if he ever inhabited it to begin with?)
Does the doctrine of non-violence, as espoused by Mahatma Gandhi, really represent the death of a Jewish state?
Arun Gandhi issued an apology after the initial uproar which addressed many of the points I raise above–however, I don’t believe for a second that it’s entirely sincere. He’s not apologizing for the sloppy analysis which pervades his original post, but correcting what he sees as misreadings of the same. Whatever the case, what he wrote initially will always be available to the net-going public and skeptics who do not buy his apology will forever abound.
End the Iranian occupation!
Living up to your avatar, as always.
Nina P., I can appreciate and relate to your anger, but I don’t think he was conflating Israel with Zionism, and I don’t think that assumption should be made. I’m sure there are many, Israelis who are not Zionists.
Yeah, I love catching their random appearances on C-SPAN 3, while their ideological counterparts, like William Kristol, appear on major networks and write opionion columns for the Times.
3. No, nonviolence does not imply anti-Zionism in the least. So long as it is consistently applied to both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Unfortunately, even the great Mahatma Gandhi got that wrong, as he refused to criticize the Arabs who attacked Jews while telling the Jews that they should have committed suicide to shame the Nazis. There is a will for peace on both sides that can be nourished.
It is lot more complicated than that:
1) First, MK Gandhi was an “equal opportunity” non-violence preacher(as Joystana) pointed out, be it Jallianwallah Bagh, Nazi atrocities, etc. This said, he also advocated violence over cowardice.
2) MK Gandhi was opposed to formation of Israel purely on the basis of religion. Again, this is “equal opportunity“, he had opposed the formation of Pakistan on same grounds till the last.
3) With all this said, one of his earliest supporters/ confidants were Jews, the most famous being Kallenbach, his friend and carpenter in Tolstoy farm, South Africa. Others included, Albert Einstein.
Now to Arun Gandhi, there is a case to be made that since 1948, violence has played a central role in the formation of Israel, and Middle East politics. Some of the prominent politicians in the area – Yasser Arafat, Ariel Sharon, even Rabin (he was part of Haganah) were well known terrorists in their younger days, and then became elder statesman later.
BTW, MKG was dead by early 1948, so he saw very little of Middle East politics unfold post 1948.
Who is this dude Arun Gandhi? And why is he “saffron”? Is the case that when any hindu makes stupid remarks he becomes “saffron”?
And why is Mr. Gandhi unable to distinguish between the israeli govt vs. people of israel with varied views vs. jews as a religous and cultural group vs. US funding of israel, egypt, jordan for its own interests? That seems strange naivete for a “peace” activist or general busybody or whatever he thinks he is.
Correction: so he saw none of Middle East politics unfold post 01/1948.
Yasser Arafat, Ariel Sharon, even Rabin (he was part of Haganah) were well known terrorists in their younger days, and then became elder statesman later.
No only Arafat was a terrorist like Bin Laden. Rabin and his Haganah group were more like George Washington. Also as Manju has wisely pointed out, stop the Iranian and Saudi Arabian apartheid of native people and colonial occupation of other countries.
Arun Gandhi, if you knew anything about him, is 180 degrees opposite of “saffron”
Kush from Sakoti Tanda
I find it hilarious that while Arun Gandhi was preaching Israel to be a pacifist country, he ended up getting kicked out of his own foundation for not having the guts to fight it out. He lacked so called “hard power”.
I completely support Israel and any other country facing constant onslaught (read India) right to acquire “hard power” to defend its “soft power” (culture, values and way of life etc.). Peace can be brought about only by holding on to power/strength. I don’t need to do more than visit my local Hindu Temple to see that in action. All the representations of god in the temple have some kind of weapon in their hand, to protect and attack when needed.
Kush, as I wrote above, the Holocaust was different from other cases of violence. Killing Jews was their primary goal, the goal all of their efforts were centered around. In fact, as the Nazis were losing the war, they actually diverted resources away from the front to speed up the genocide. They believed that Germany’s very existence was threatened by the mere existence of Jews. That’s not comparable with, for example, your example Jallianwallah Bagh, and so I don’t think it’s fair to say that MG was “equal opportunity” in his nonviolent approach on that basis. In fact, there was at least one case where he refused to criticize violence as a political tool – when it was used by Arabs against Jews. “I am not defending the Arab excesses. I wish they had chosen the way of non-violence in resisting what they rightly regarded as an unwarrantable encroachment upon their country. But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds.”
(And religious Zionism played a very small part in the formation of Israel. It was about establishing/returning to a homeland as a way of creating the conditions under which Jews, as a people, could exercise political self determination. He was in favor of many groups having self determination in their homelands, no? But he argued that Jews should exist in diaspora while others had homelands.)
Your view that Mahatma Gandhi had some issue with jews is just plain silly. Your comments are in fact identical to the comments made by certain indian hindus with the word jew replaced by hindu. Gandhi was very consistent and clear about his view: no support for european-style nationalism or religion-based separatism. NONE. He didnt agree with the formation of pakistan and india, he didnt agree with the proposal for israel. He never attended a single formal event of the indian and pakistani states. To this day, he is hated by hindu chauvinists for having insisted on a multi-million dollar payment to pakistan in 47-48 which was quite critical to their survival.
Maybe some of his thoughts were unrealistic and impractical. Certainly he couldnt imagine a character like Hitler, but in fairness, very few people did in the 30s.
You also speak of “religous zionism” – this sounds just plain wrong. Zionism was quite anti-religous or at least areligous in its basic form. Many orthodox jews objected to the formation of israel, for various cultural and religous reasons. The influential status of religous groups in the state of israel is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Here is an interesting academic article on Gandhi, and Zionism.
It is OK to take issue with Gandhi for his ill advised comments and I in no way agree with what he has said, but calling him saffron is just plain inaccurate. Next time perhaps more research before using such epithets.
62 Â· Yogi said
To some of you, it is an epithet. To me it is a color on the Indian flag which some readers will quickly assume to be a pejorative reference–read the comments for his initial post and you’ll see that’s how some of the commenters frame him (but if you’re too lazy to do your own research, by all means plumb my post’s title for ‘anti-saffron’ bias.) Glad to see, however, that you’re reading either way. If I really wanted to make the connection, I would have titled it, “Arun Gandhi: a SpoorLam Finklestein.”
AFAIK there were several different types of Zionist thought(which includes the Iron Wall of Jabotinsky as well as the high-society, top-down vision of Herzl). The initial Aliyas were composed mostly of kibbutz socialists but Jewish migrant demographics are a bit more complicated than secular v. non-secular.
I’m a U of R alum and thought I could contribute to this convo, from a totally different angle. I’d have to agree with you Nayagan, I doubt Seligman will face any flack for his post or decision. He’s actually battling cancer and has publically discussed it this year, and I think a lot of members of the university community are impressed with his leadership despite his current personal battles and may approach this with kid gloves.
In terms of the future of the institute, I do think its goals fit nicely with other institutes and programs at Rochester. As some people may know, both Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass are strongly affiliated with the school and there are several institutes, programs and buildings in their name. I think this institute, as a young alum, was an extension of that atmosphere Rochester tried to create in the last decade. I will be definitely look at future univ. correspondence to see if this is addressed. U of R is in a tough situation….Hillel is a very strong community on campus, and I’ve worked w/ them on interfaith programming while I was in undergrad. U of R has an Interfaith Chapel on campus (no other religious buildings) and tries to convey interdependence amongst faith groups on campus. Of course, this situation may bring up some divisions that have been otherwise stiffled by that, and I’m sure the school will be very quick to try to bring the atmosphere back to status quo. Hence statements like these…..
In the Indian political context saffron=hindu right (BJP, RSS, Shivsena etc). When you describe Gandhi as saffron, that’s what most readers who are familiar with the Indian political scene will assume whether you may have meant it or not.
) I have not accused you of any bias just was pointing out what seemed like a factual inaccuracy.
No need to resort to name calling when making your point.
FWIW I think the hindu right with its divisive politics threatens to unravel the very fabric of the Indian nation.
lead by example. this is what you said:
I think he meant homeland as the place where you reside. As previously stated, he was against the creation of Pakistan, and I doubt he would have been too happy if a bunch of Mumbai Parsis decided to go reclaim Tehran as their rightful “homeland.”
You are using saffron as a short hand for Indian, that is inaccurate in my opinion, and I wanted to point that out. If I came across as snarky in my earlier remarks and hurt your feelings I am sorry.
Al beruni, Your view that Mahatma Gandhi had some issue with jews is just plain silly. That’s not my view. My view is that he was wrong on the issues in this case. (You also speak of “religous zionism” – Only to note that it had little to do with the formation of Israel.)
Kush, It isn’t that I’m unaware of Gandhi’s views on the matter. He wrote, “Why should they [Jews] not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood?” So, why should they not resolve to be everywhere minorities with political power that can only flow from the good will of others? He never wrestled with the questions Zionism was actually trying to address. Instead, he saw Zionism as a colonial project that fundamentally misrepresented the position of Jews in the world. According to your link, “Famous Jewish pacifists, Martin Buber, Judah Magnes and Hayim Greenberg, who otherwise admired Gandhi, felt “highly offended by Gandhi’s anti-Zionism” and criticized him for his lack of understanding of the spirit of Zionism.” It might be worth exploring their views. And I would add Hannah Arendt.
69 Â· Yogi said
No, i am not using it as short-hand for “indian.” I am alluding to the casting of Gandhi as allied with Saffron warriors in the comments section of his first post (as I pointed out in my initial comment).
–> Did you read what Yogi pointed out before saying the bold portion above ?
I am just curious how saffron reference came to be associated with Arun Gandhi in your original post.
–> Can you point out where Saffron was referred in the comments section of his first post ?
I tried looking for it but there was none. Maybe I missed it.
If you took the saffron reference from comments section of his(Arun Gandhi) first post, how well researched is your original post ?
I completely support Israel and any other country facing constant onslaught (read India) right to acquire “hard power” to defend its “soft power” (culture, values and way of life etc.).
so how is India losing it’s soft power? is it due to westernization? and what is the hard power it is acquiring to defend this so called right?
This statement seemed bizarre to me…like a rant that is cloaked in ‘patriotism’
Arun Gandhi betrayed Mahatama Gandhi’s legacy by refusing to go on a hunger strike. There is no hope for Gandhianim with his own descendants abandoning Gandhian methods.
My point about the roots of ‘semitism’ was simply that a lot of these definitions of nationality, race, and in some senses, geography, are fluid. I’d rather not get into a “bizarre pissing contest (new favorite term)” about what is and isn’t an acceptable discussion on this thread, especially considering the current row over what exactly the titular ‘saffron’ refers to (enter ‘titular’ joke by ping pong here)
I read the use of the word ‘saffron’ as an analogue to ‘Indian’. I don’t feel offended thinking my $6.95 buffet is doled out by an RSS acolyte, but just barrel the frozen vegetable curry down in my pan Indian fervor.
If only this guy’s view was shared maybe all this strife between Israelis and Palestinians can be a little alleviated….
76 Â· Rahul said
Good point. I forget all the good come backs.
I am happy your title caused you controversy. That should bring home the fact that every word needs to be seen in its context, with as liberal an interpretation as possible. The rest of your post, and even the question mark in the title would suggest you are not “conflating” saffron with Indian, but you were still accused of the same.
It is ironic but fitting that you find yourself in the same plight as Arun Gandhi. Hope your sympathy for your own position extends to that of his, and you now agree that a poorly chosen word or two should hardly require one to resign from his post.
Trust we will be seeing you around at SM for long.
79 Â· bunty said
What the hell does this mean?
As for the eyeroll-inducing preoccupation with “Why Saffron, why saffron?”, you lot remind me of my two-year old niece, who likes to ask the same question dozens of times– except she doesn’t assume the worst while repeating herself. Why cede such a gorgeous color to extremists? I love my saffron saris, to me it’s the most Indian color of all and I will wear them, BJP, RSS and HBS be damned.
Sometimes, saffron is just saffron, it’s not an Om-signal in the sky.
Why this omophobia on SM? Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
You actually had me frantically clicking “define: omophobia” on Google before I got it. 🙂 Not omophobia. More like kvetching-about-the-title-and-overtaking-the-thread-phobia.
I wonder if this is a generational divide. Someone born here/who isn’t Indian/who isn’t well-acquainted with the Indian political system, may not see the same implications in “saffron” as someone from India. We’re all coming to this blog with different backgrounds.
80 Â· Pondatti said
Surely my paltry vocabulary skills are no match for your knowledge of $10 words? 🙂
Glad to have helped with my contribution to the threadjack 🙂
85 Â· Rahul said
Surely my paltry vocabulary skills are no match for your knowledge of $10 words? 🙂
Glad to have helped with my contribution to the threadjack 🙂
Not really attempted threadjacking. It’s unfortunate that I was stuck in the defensive rhetorical posture so long, that I forgot about the good offense that Rahul brought up initially and Pondatti seconded.
Anyhow, for the Saffron Outrage Brigade (bravely searching for bias/misapplication wherever it may lie–a title, a tag, etc.) a few facts:
Most of my friends as a small child were adults–adults wearing saffron clothing and doing generally sannyasi things. Which means…drumroll please…that I grew up around and admired people who wore saffron daily–monks, initiates, SWAMIS!!!!! (have any of you done the same?) It doesn’t carry the negative connotation for me because of my lived experience (which sadly never included $6.95, reheated pan-Indian buffets-I’m assuming these delicacies are available around DC?).
I had much in the way of sympathy for Arun Gandhi, not for the ludicrous reason that bunty points to, but for the simple reason that without his book on Kasturba, my senior history seminar paper in college would have never been possible. I feel bad for him, but macaca please!
Since ‘Saffron’ seems to gently brush a few quick-firing nerves, I fully intend to work the word into every post I write.
What is HBS??.
That is just Evil. Me like.
Evil Abhi, you are not nearly as evil as Evil Saffron Abhi.
Please to be watching my new devotional movie: Bal Vihar Bhajans 2. It has wonderful akhada sequences, love scenes that would make Krishna proud, and a climactic temple sequence that will leave you screaming ‘Hey Ram’.
Reminds me of the time when I wore a red t-shirt in Kerala once, my bourgeois-congress grandfather’s quick firing nerves were gently brushed, and asked me quite concerned “Eda, nee communist aayo?” (Have you become a communist?). In response, my usually quick-firing nerves were confused whether to push the ‘hmm..this-is-mildly-amusing’ button or the ‘oh-no-you-di-int’ button.
HBS = Harvard Business School
🙂 is there any reason behind your handle?.
Ok. I was trying to figure out a relation between BJP, RSS and HBS. I know in “progressive” speak BJP, RSS, Hindutva, Hitler, Fascism, Saffronazis, Saffron are common terms. I have not heard or read about HBS, that’s the reason for my question. Thanks
Man states a personal opinion, clumsily, and gets carried away in last sentence. Loses job and livelihood. Am I the only one here who thinks this is not a good thing?
Could someone point me to something ‘good’ to read on this Hindutva issue? I have tried to look into it, and have done so enough that I am familiar with the basics, but I’m left deeply unsettled, over, for example, the frequent quick turns by the pro-BJP people to say something along the lines of (sorry if I’m mis-characterizing things–I am an AB(C?)D! and far from a policy-maker or historian, and my parents have their own obviously agenda-driven take on the topic(s)) “well, even though the Gujarat riots are regrettable, Congress/’the pseudo-secularists’ have never gotten to the bottom of the anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi under Indira,” or that “Congress coddles Naxalites,” etc. And although I’m deeply suspicious of “tit for tat” arguments, I have yet to find a good overall analysis of these charges/facts (I’ve looked at some books by historians in India, but they seem too overtaken by Derrida, Spivak etc. to really make sense to me, and I’ve seen a lot of skepticism on SM about Naipaul or Mishra, so I don’t want to rely on them too much either)–hopefully I’m stumbling around in the dark, so–any suggestions on what to read?
Calling Arun Gandhi “saffron” makes about as much sense as calling Elie Weisel a nazi.
If that is the case where is the freedom of expression in the U.S.? Everytime you express your opinion you pay a price?
I think you can read “Arun Shourie”, he is someone from the Hindutva side whose works portray a pro “Hindutva” perspective. I believe he used to be a “progressive” (Magsasay award winner) then turned into a Hindutvadi.
I’m not sure if you were asking a rhetorical question but if in case you weren’t, I’m offering my take (for whatever that’s worth). The 1st Amendment does give the right to freedom of speech from gov’t intervention (with certain limits as interpreted by the Supreme Court). However, the same freedom of speech applies to those who may wish to disagree or ridicule that opinion. (as can be seen from time to time on SM – which often leads to some rather interesting debate) So yes, every time someone wishes to open their mouth or pen a word, they should be aware that there may be a consequence in the disapproval of others and the cost that may bring. While that may seem to be limiting on the right to freedom of speech, I think that it’s the very purpose of the freedom of speech, to create a marketplace of ideas (to borrow a phrase from the Supreme Court) where some ideas and thoughts can be examined and discussed and determined by the listener/reader as worthy or not of keeping.
Additionally, the freedom of speech allows people to discuss whether reactions to speech made by people like Mr. Gandhi is appropriate, as illustrated by your comments and Nayagan’s post.