The Political Animal

The Causes of ISIS

Establishing what caused ISIS has become, for many, something of a cause. I have not researched exactly when the debate began – what was, as it were, the cause of the debate over the cause of ISIS – but certainly soon after its sweep from Syria into Iraq began, and unsurprisingly if even earlier, people began to seek to account for it.

Aside from the customary ambient smoke of conspiratorial accounts, an immediate choice was the Obama administration’s obvious utter failure, post withdrawal from Iraq, to anticipate and clandestinely target the organization. Soon enough, another “cause” came to supersede that one, that of the Iraq War, and the forces it unleashed (I choose that dead metaphorical verb purposefully) across the region. The argument rages on, but let us recognize in considering it, the ideological war behind it. The initial offering, above, comforts supporters of the Iraq War, the second contests it on behalf of the war’s opponents. Who lost China, the quintessential Cold War ideological contest in political historiography, has been replaced now by who caused ISIS.

The latest entry in the contest comes from Kyle W. Orton in “How Saddam Hussein Gave Us ISIS,’ in The New York Times. It is a fine and enlightening piece and a much needed addition to the historical account. Orton explains how the Iraqi Baath party transformed over Hussein’s rule from a secular party into a party both strategically and peformatively Islamist, if not authentically so. What further interests me about the essay begins with the “gave us” in the title. Like my “unleashed,” it is an imprecise substitute for “caused,” which is itself a word, going back to Aristotle’s four causes, that is conceptually complex.

Most arguments about causation, especially the political, are simplistic. When one claims that the Iraq War caused ISIS, or that Saddam Hussein “gave us” us ISIS, what exactly is one saying? Is the writer seriously asserting that a phenomenon – this complex phenomenon – had but a single cause, without which it would never have arisen? One hopes not, but when the argument over causation is a cover for partisan campaigns to cast blame, it frequently descends to that kind of reductionism.

Intentional or not, Orton’s argument deflects responsibility from the destabilizing effects of the American invasion of Iraq. (It also adds considerable weight to the always reasonable pre-invasion concern that Hussein might cooperate with Al-Qaeda.) As he wrote even before the Times op-ed, at greater length and with even richer support, “The Islamic State Was Coming Without the Invasion of Iraq.” Here we have the further uncertain formulation “was coming.” But as Orton acknowledges in the Times,

The Arab nationalist Baath Party, which seized power in 1968 in a coup in which Mr. Hussein played a key role, had a firmly secular outlook. This held through the 1970s, even as religiosity rose among the Iraqi people. [Emphasis added]


In some respects, Mr. Hussein’s government was following rather than leading public opinion, as Iraqis fell back on their faith for solace under the harsh international sanctions. [Emphasis added]

In the latter observation, we have the introduction of yet another cause – post Gulf War economic sanctions – that segments of the anti-Western left will be happy to entertain. The first observation opens up a whole history of Islamist developments over the twentieth century. There was, says Orton, a rise in religiosity prior to and independent of Hussein’s transformations, a rise he as much as followed as led. We know, from Saudi Arabia to Iran to the Muslim Brotherhood and beyond, that both Sunni and Shia developments were emerging, theologically and geopolitically, in conflict with each other, with existing secular governments, and with the West. When we seek to assign causation, when we seek to ascribe blame, how reductively do we simplify to reach a point other than that of genuine, useful understanding?

The verbs matter, as they reflect – if we do not wish to achieve the reductive simplicity that passseth understanding – what aspect of causality we clearly intend. Orton claims Saddam Hussein gave us ISIS. If he means laid considerable groundwork for it, Orton makes a strong case. He also argues that ISIS was coming without the Iraq War. That may well be – again, he makes a strong case – but part of the open question is when, and much of what we should be thinking about when we question, meaningfully, what caused ISIS, is what caused the rise of ISIS now, under these conditions.

Orton closes in the Times, by stating,

The Islamic State was not created by removing Saddam Hussein’s regime; it is the afterlife of that regime.

The first clause, as to “created,” seems clearly true; the second clause, with its vaguer ideation of “afterlife,” only partially so.

In his earlier essay, Orton offered in closing,

To put it simply, the Saddam regime’s reputation for keeping a lid on religious militancy and sectarianism is exactly wrong; by commission and omission it brought both things to levels Iraq has scarcely ever known in its history.

Here, the judgment seems properly the reverse, that the last clause is, as Orton so well argues, clearly true. As to the well-known, also dead metaphorical “lid” of the first clause, lids are popped or blown, their contents, already there, released into the surroundings. Dogs, already living and breathing, and straining for release, to track or attack, are unleashed. Waters, already rising, “burst” dams, “break” levies. Pick your metaphor, choose your verb. The Iraq War, like all acts, caused some things to happen, and when it comes to the good and the bad, you don’t get to pick and choose.


The Political Animal

Iraq and “Last Days in Vietnam”

At the Los Angeles Film Festival I caught Rory Kennedy’s powerful and moving Last Days in Vietnam. If you think you are familiar with the story of the botched and frantic – and heroic – American evacuation of Vietnam, with the fall of Saigon, including some many tens of thousands of lucky Vietnamese, this film will set you straight. There is an iconic photo from that time of desperate Vietnamese climbing a spindly ladder to the narrow roof top of the American Embassy and the last helicopter out. In truth, it was not the American Embassy (rather the home of the assistant CIA station chief) and there were many more helicopters. There is much, much more to the story. It is a tragic story, and near its close, ex CIA operative Frank Snep, one of a host of American and Vietnamese who recount their experiences of the evacuation, offers the sadness with which he recalls the end of the United States experience in Vietnam and how it represents for him the nature of the whole experience.

The North Vietnamese committed their massive violation of the Paris Peace Accords, by invading the South, in February of 1975, twenty five months after the accords were signed, and the subsequent withdrawal of American combat forces. On April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon. The American evacuation, because U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin until then refused to even consider planning one, was effected in a single day, April 29, 1975, into the dark morning of the thirtieth.

The consequences for the South Vietnamese, especially those known to be allied with or sympathetic to the U.S. were great. Up to one million Vietnamese were subsequently interned in the infamous reeducation camps, where mortality rates have been estimated at 10% per year. “Boat people” refugees numbered 1.6 million. What followed were decades of economic stagnation, and for those of the South, the loss of political freedom that persists today.

As the North’s rapid advance southward progressed, President Gerald Ford appeared before Congress with a request for over $700 million to fund an American response, including the possibility of the reintroduction of American military forces. The American people and their representatives were in no mood. As the end credits rolled, carrying with them the enormous sense of the loss, the folly, and the betrayals worked into the very start of that American endeavor, the thought occurred to me: who would argue now, after that long war, fought at such price, with no gain, that the United States should have returned to Vietnam in 1975, in the baseless belief it could have achieved in the end any of what it had failed to achieve the last time around?

Instantly, the answer occurred: the same people now arguing for a return to Iraq, who wish we had never left, who never learn from history. For these people the sum total of political wisdom in international affairs is Hobbes, Machiavelli, and von Clausewitz, Munich and the historical anomaly of total victory in the Second World War, and an American Exceptionalism perverted from an empirical historical achievement into a moral inherency that paves an imperial road not only to folly but to ruin.

If one were to draw out the implications of the judgment these voices make on American military dominance in the post-War era, the seeds of national decadence were planted almost at the reaping of the nation’s greatest harvest: from Korea to Cuba to Vietnam, Taiwan, Iran, Afghanistan and beyond, nothing but lack of national will, a weakness of backbone to fight the ultimate fight, the failed moral courage to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe.” Kennedy completed the thought, “in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” He neglected to add in foreign lands, and even when one needs to construct the friend out of grass or clay. The only truly morally sufficient, which is to say total, military achievements were the pathetic accomplishment of invading Granada and the discretely achievable goal of capturing Manuel Noriega in Panama. Even the resounding military success of the Gulf War was compromised, to these foreign policy hands, by George H.W. Bush’s careful decision not to move on Baghdad, a decision ratified in its own resounding fashion by the Iraq War. That is to say the judgment not to advance on Baghdad was confirmed for all but those for whom it was a moral as much as a strategic failure, and who hawked a whole new ward to achieve that end.

Who in 1975 would have been led by McNamara, Rusk, or Westmoreland back into the paddies of Vietnam? Who would not have cried out in repugnance at the shameless reappearance of any of them on the national stage in order to pretend to strategic wisdom, never mind moral suasion, while hawking further military misguidance? These are people who would have reduced the Thirty Years’ War to the bromide of “staying the course.”

While the Arab world continues to struggle in its political development, related, profound strains of Islamic culture reject modernity and illiberally, even barbarically erupt against it. Influences go back a century and far longer. The program and the pitch for external imposition of liberal democratic structures over these conditions has been already an intellectual scandal with mortal consequences and of historic proportion. Those who once again make the pitch – the Cheney’s, McCains, Kristols, Wolfowitz’s, et al – deserve the censure of history, not the spotlight of lazy broadcast journalism and the assembly line of op-ed pages.

As tragic were the consequences of South Vietnam’s fall, there is no reason at all to believe a reengagement there would have produced a lesser tragedy to substitute, or a lesser failure than the first engagement. When the mission is mistaken, no amount of backbone, bombast, or bombing will extract success from it.

The arrogant misreading of history is that missionary liberal democracy can redirect world historical and long-term regional social developments through force of imperial might and inherent moral superiority. This arrogance is, in fact, a signature of post-Columbian imperialism. And when the folly has ended, imperial democracy leaves the Sykes–Picot Agreement or the patchwork of African nation-states and comforts itself in mad, blind delusion that it left the places it tarried better off for the visit. The greater and tragic truth is that we are guided through history by the vaguest sense of a destination while wearing a blindfold. Just ask the people unlucky enough to host the imperial visits.

From the fallout of the Arab upheavals, so sadly and natively labeled the Arab Spring, to the theocratic insanity and barbarism that has come to possess too broad a strain of Islam, the Middle East and North Africa will host dangers for the liberal democracies and the United States for an immeasurable time to come. There may well be times, soon and later, when the United States will need to carry out smaller and larger military operations to destroy enemies and counter threats there. It has not been called by some the Long War unknowingly. But such purposeful actions in self-defense and in careful protection of the national interest are a categorical remove from nation building, and from committing the nation’s human and other resources on behalf of nations and governments that offer no manifest political and cultural alliance. Such military miscalculations – such as the Iraq War in the first place, and any return there to bolster the Iraqi government – actually have, and would, work counter to American self-defense and the protection of American interests, by draining will and resources from what must be accomplished in the attempt achieve what cannot.

James Madison, on a very different domestic topic, warned in Federalist No. 10 that

It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.

He understood that the times, as the leaders, would not always be so great. They were not great or enlightened in 2003. The same figures, unreconstructed and unconscionable, are no greater now, their cause and argument no more supported by the short or longer history of events. They are a danger to the republic. The doors need be barred against them.


Indian Country Israel The Political Animal

Academic Boycotts and Re-Colonization by Theory

(The full text of the following essay was published by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.)

from “Academic Boycotts and Recolonization by Theory” 

As a matter of international justice, however, conceptually distinguishing and crucial in consideration of what constitutes an indigenous people have been the following characteristics, developed for the Working Paper on the Concept of “Indigenous People” prepared for the U.N.’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations:

  • Priority in time, with respect to the occupation and use of a specific territory;
  • The voluntary perpetuation of cultural distinctiveness, which may include the aspects of language, social organization, religion and spiritual values, modes of production, laws and institutions;
  • An experience of subjugation, marginalization, dispossession, exclusion or discrimination, whether or not these conditions persist; and
  • Self-identification, as well as recognition by other groups, or by State authorities, as a distinct collectivity.

It is obvious that Jews wholly match the distinguishing characteristics.  They do so no less or more so in any one respect than another, yet one may say that in the historically outstanding nature of Jewish survival during an unparalleled, near two-millennium Diaspora, “voluntary perpetuation of cultural distinctiveness” and “self-identification” have played especially important roles. I note this to emphasize the self-identification component offered by the international community in thoughtful respect to the self-determination of indigenous peoples.

It is the case, given the politics of indigeneity among host nations, that nations will often challenge the indigenous claims of their internal populations. Most notable in recent times, four nations – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States – did not originally vote in favor of adopting the 2007 U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The reasons for this reluctance were not difficult to fathom. All four nations had profound histories of conquest and significant indigenous populations whose claims – original, political, and economic – are supported by the Declaration. Ratification might also entail a difficult social and political coming-to-terms with disturbing historical truths, a process still not advanced in the United States. (Australia, by contrast, in 2008 issued a public apology to its indigenous population, delivered by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in a nationally televised address before the Australian parliament, with all but one living former prime minister present.) In the United States, Native American claims of territorial and sovereign rights are regularly resisted. The Pamunkey Tribe of Virginia, for instance, of such history as to be famed for Pocahantas and its contact with John Smith and the Jamestown colony, and occupying, still, the oldest reservation in the country, predating the country, does not enjoy the benefits of federally recognized status. The Lakota actually won a 1980, 8-1 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court over the theft, in violation of two Fort Laramie treaties, of the Black Hills of South Dakota. Still, while the Court offered the Lakota financial compensation – which the tribe did not want and has refused – it did not offer the Lakota what it is they do want and still demand,  the return of their sacred Hills.

In contrast to these national challenges to indigenous claims, what one will not find is the international community – that is to say, the international legal regime and the left social justice movements that are so much that regime’s support – challenging those indigenous claims by aboriginal populations.

One will not find challenges to these claims, that is, except in the case of Jews.

Anti-Semitism and the Denial of Jewish Indigeneity

Fundamental now to the radical left assault on Israel’s legitimacy are fierce anti-historical falsehoods denying the indigeneity of Jews to the ancient land of Israel. Palestinians and their left Western supporters, as part of the campaign to delegitimize Israel, regularly challenge and even deny the historical origin of Jews in Israel. This is their challenge to the distinguishing criterion of “priority in time.”

The variations on these delegitimizing tactics are many, from genetic denial (Ashkenazi Jews are really converted Khazars) and misidentification (Jews are Europeans), to differing counterfactual claims: ignoring the unbroken presence of Jews in Palestine (the Old Yeshuv) and ignoring in the European claim that the majority of current Israeli Jews are actually Mizrahi and Sepharidic Jews.

Only for Jews, then, is the sensitive and respectful “fundamental criterion” of self-identification attacked by every kind of scientific, historical, and rhetorical fraudulence. With respect to Jews only does the ideological left challenge the integral identity in difference of an indigenous people. Whereas, according to the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples, “in almost all indigenous languages, the name of a group simply refers to ‘people,’ ‘man’ or ‘us,’” often with some indicator of place, such as “here” – thus distinguishing “the people” from those who are outsiders, those who are not “the people” – only with respect to Jews is the otherwise respected self-separation in “cultural distinctiveness” and difference misrepresented and traduced by some who would call themselves “progressive” as an ideology of racist superiority. In this gesture of disdain and, indeed, cultural superiority, does a so-called progressive dominant world view mimic the condescension with which European peoples conducted a genocidal assault on the resistant cultural and religious otherness of the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere and Oceania.

Only now it is against Jews that such a campaign of cultural genocide is waged, not this time on the basis of a Christian slander of deicide or of Nazi physical extermination, but of a selectively post-nationalist secular religion and by a blind progressivism that begins to mirror its opposite.

It is now “theory,” the most highfalutin conceptualizing and rhetoricizing of the intellectual left, that moves this third great movement of Western anti-Semitism. It is NAISA’s own purported professionalism in indigenous studies that constructs the irony of this campaign against the Jewish state, and, as an exploitative by-product, the re-colonization by theory of other indigenous peoples.

Re-Colonization by Theory

The ILO’s and U.N. Working Group’s criteria include as one of those distinguishing characteristics of indigeneity the “experience of subjugation, marginalization, dispossession, exclusion or discrimination, whether or not these conditions persist.” Of course, now, for Jews, in the establishment of, and in a Jewish state, those conditions do not primarily any longer persist. Yet in this qualifier – offered, clearly, against any distinction – postcolonial and culture theorists working from counter-constructs of power and the ethical standing of powerlessness nonetheless find  excuse to recast Jews as oppressors based on their recovery from powerlessness.

Still, we might pause to wonder, as any clear thinker would be driven by obvious questioning to wonder – but why, for NAISA, Israel and Jews?

Where are the NAISA resolutions in support of boycotting Brazilian universities, in protest of the destruction of the Amazon homelands of the smallest and most powerless of all indigenous tribes? Where is the resolution against Indonesia for the 1963 conquest and subjugation of the 250 indigenous tribes of West Papua, New Guinea, which those people still resist today? Where was the resolution, closer to home, to boycott Yale University prior to 2010, during the near century that it reneged on the deal with Peru to return the Quechua artifacts of Machu Picchu? Closer still, where were the resolutions against American universities in protest of the fourteen-year Individual Indian Trust Fund lawsuit, and of the Tribal Trust Fund suit, litigations against the U.S. Department of the Interior over the misappropriation of hundreds of billions of dollars held in trust for scores of tribes and hundreds of thousands of individual American Indians since 1887? Where are the resolutions in protest of the inadequacies of the Indian Health Service, of state and local violations of the tribal sovereignty offered by the federal government? Where is the resolution to boycott any law school that does not call for the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn Johnson v. M’Intosh, the 1823 decision by which the Court legally enshrined the conquest of Native America by right of European discovery?

We will not find them.

What we find instead, driven by the fashions of academia, the prevailing winds of cultural theory, and the shape shifting of anti-Semitism is the exploitation of the indigenous cause, and one more time, of indigenous peoples, only for the purpose of expropriating the terms of those peoples’ histories to be used not in the interests of the indigenous, but as rhetorical weapons against Jews. The political fashionistas of the Middle East and Orientalist theorizing – in support of Palestinian rejectionism, which is in order to oppose Jewish empowerment in Israel –  do not care about indigenous peoples. They merely use them, adopting the modern history of indigenous victimization as a banner to fly in the campaign against Israel. Worse, in this abuse, they attempt, in ideological solidarity, to draw in to a conflict not their own the very indigenous peoples these progressives pretend to champion as allies. Think of the French and Indian War in North America. How the British made promises to the Iroquois to protect the Ohio River Valley from European settlement. How the French must have whispered the music of mutual alliance into Algonquian  ears. How Omar Barghouti and some Americanist from a state university protesting settler-colonialism in Palestine play, by the mere utterance of a verbal truth-to-power badge, as if they stand in solidarity with West Papuans.

In 1988, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak published a landmark essay in postcolonial studies entitled “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Its status was established by the nature of its insights, variously welcome and unwelcome by its intended audience, and by the extent of its influence on the field. That influence has been, all depending on one’s perspective, both profoundly positive and negative. Among Spivak’s important insights and warnings (Spivak’s Marxist and deconstructionist theorizing is the kind that seeks to problematize a field, to interrupt a discourse) was the caution against first-world political radicals producing “essentialist” conceptions of the third-world subaltern powerless, i.e. conceiving of them as if they are all, from their varied cultures and histories, the same in their difference – representing them as possessing an essential, common otherness from those Western Subjects who make objects of them through study. This might mean, very simply, constructing homogenous postcolonial others out of Cherokees and Palestinians.

Another of Spivak’s warnings, significantly unheeded in practice, was against perpetuating in the radical postcolonial critique of imperialism the same Western power structures – the hegemony of Western modes of knowledge and discourse – that upheld imperialism. That is to say that Western theorists and radicals speaking on behalf of the subaltern is not the subaltern speaking. Rather it is a substitution of the same dominating institutional and historical discourse for – and here Spivak quotes Foucault – “a whole set of knowledges that have been disqualified as inadequate to their task or insufficiently elaborated: naive knowledges, located low down on the hierarchy, beneath the required level of cognition or scientificity.”

What is the history of Western colonialism for indigenous peoples, beyond the physical onslaught, if not a history of the West’s disqualifying as inadequate “naive knowledges, located low down on the hierarchy, beneath the required level of cognition or scientificity”? How do we not see, even more than in the theory and its jargon, in the postcolonial activism itself – by exploiting the jargon in an effort to refashion reality from it, through vague verbal posturings in boycott resolutions by professional intellectuals – Western radicals this time, imposing, again, their own, alien historical discourse and conceptions, their own positive and negative self-regard, their own agenda on indigenous peoples?

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The Political Animal

Finessing Foreign Policy


In his testimony at yesterday’s hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry said,

It is also imperative that in implementing President Obama’s vision for the world as he ends more than a decade of war, we join together to augment our message to the world. President Obama and every one of us here knows that American foreign policy is not defined by drones and deployments alone. We cannot allow the extraordinary good we do to save and change lives to be eclipsed entirely by the role we have had to play since September 11th, a role that was thrust upon us.

American foreign policy is also defined by food security and energy security, humanitarian assistance, the fight against disease and the push for development, as much as it is by any single counter terrorism initiative. It is defined by leadership on life threatening issues like climate change, or fighting to lift up millions of lives by promoting freedom and democracy from Africa to the Americas or speaking out for  the prisoners of gulags in North Korea or millions of refugees and displaced persons and victims of human trafficking. It is defined by keeping faith with all that our troops have sacrificed to secure for Afghanistan.  America lives up to her values when we give voice to the voiceless. [Emphasis added]

This is one expression of the realignment away from imperial overreach that I wrote about last week in explaining why President Obama – mistakenly, I think – chose Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. It is a realignment that is imperative to America’s future, in part because it is not merely a post 9/11 international role that requires redevelopment: post 9/11 policy has merely been an extension, against a different enemy, of Cold War militarism, and two decades after the end of the cold war – how time flies – it is essential that the country envision a new international role in a new global environment.

It isn’t always necessary to enunciate  change, however. Declarations can be simplified and mistaken. By belligerent or duplicitous foes, olive branches can be taken for fig leafs. President Obama’s outreach to the Arab and Muslim worlds in his Cairo speech of June 2009 earned him and the United States exactly no credit from the elements in those regions who already despise and mistrust the U.S., and it managed to persuade others, including some allies, that Obama misunderstands the nature of some international conflicts. The choice of Hagel for Defense reinforced that perception.

Friends and foes, and those at a wary distance, will know the U.S., as always, by its actions. When the U.S. leads in the humanitarian ways Kerry spoke of, that will be clearly seen. When it leads more forcefully as an advocate, if necessary, and resource, when necessary for international actions that are truly international, when it acts militarily both shrewdly and forcefully, and only massively in true self-defense, that will be clearly seen.

A small occurrence during the committee hearing is mildly instructive. Kerry at the start was interrupted by a protester. It was an ironic moment for he who began his public career as leader of an anti-war organization invited, finally, to appear before that very committee in 1971. Under the circumstances, Kerry might not be expected to respond in any but the empathetic manner he did, respectful of the role of public protest in a democracy. It needs to be noted, though, that what the young woman shouted was nonsense.

Before the woman was pulled out of the room, she declared that “we” are killing “thousands” in the Middle East, and that the “Middle East” is “not a threat to us.” Rather a large untooled umbrella, but these days, gone from Iraq, not remotely true. The Syrians are killing thousands, tens of thousands, but she did not cry out about that. She said she is “tired of her friends in the Middle East dying” and  didn’t know if her they would be” alive the next day.” Unless her friends live in certain remote areas of Yemen, where the U.S. makes drone strikes against Al-Qaeda – but is not killing thousands – whoever is endangering her friends, it is not the U.S. She cried out that we need “peace with Iran.” We are not, of course, at war with Iran. Otherwise, she expressed no opinion on Iranian nuclear, or for that matter, civil rights policy.

Kerry, forty years ago, was protesting an actual war. He was protesting a war in which the United States was itself actually engaged. Maybe the woman would like to protest the ongoing war in Afghanistan. That at least would be coherent. But distinctions matter. Active agents. Cause and effect. Accurate numbers. Words. They all matter. And they send messages, sometimes the ones we want and sometimes not. John Kennedy learned that coming out of his Vienna Summit with Nikita Kruschev.


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Why Obama Hearts Hagel


This commentary first appeared in the Algemeiner on January 11. 

The last time I wrote about President Obama’s then only rumored selection of Chuck Hagel I said two things I knew I would wish to revise. The first, rhetorically, was the question: “What was he thinking?” The second was a quotation from Gil Troy’s generally very good writing on this subject, which I qualified then as “[p]erhaps overstating the case.” In attempting to answer the rhetorical question, I need to begin by deepening my critique of the passage I quoted from Troy.

Troy wrote,

The question of where Obama stands regarding Israel has often pivoted on this deeper question of which Obama shows up when doing foreign policy. His conjuring up of an American-Muslim heritage in Cairo, his dithering before supporting Iran’s Green Revolution, his historically sloppy comparisons between Palestinians and African-Americans, and his occasional “tough-love” approach to Israel, all expressed his inner McGovern—revealing how a position that appears lovely and idealistic often becomes morally myopic. But supporting Israel militarily, endorsing Israel’s defensive war against Hamas missiles, and backing Israel in the U.N., have all expressed his inner Kissinger—sprinkled with a dash of nobility and idealism worthy of Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

I cited these words by Troy because of this schism he noted in Obama’s foreign policy tendencies. The schism is real, but Troy characterized it too crudely and mislabeled its divisions. Nothing in Obama’s foreign policy descends to the McGovern caricature of “lovely and idealistic.” (And for the record, let us all recall that George McGovern flew 35 combat missions in World War II as a B-24 bomber pilot.) Nothing in Obama’s foreign policy descends to the cynical imperial machinations of Henry Kissinger.

What Troy confuses with Kissinger’s Machiavellian realism is Obama’s more straight forward and empirical political reason. Obama was clear about it in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Awarded a prize he knew he had accomplished nothing to earn, Obama’s expressed acceptance in a speech before that audience of the need for state violence, on that occasion and under such circumstances, constituted a minor profile in courage. Said Obama,

[A] head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by [Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.’s] examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

I raise this point, I begin with this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world’s sole military superpower.

But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions — not just treaties and declarations — that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest — because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

The concentration and determination with which Obama has prosecuted a controversial, vigorous and deadly stealth and drone war against the United States’ terrorist enemies is testament to the truth of the beliefs expressed in these words.

In a speech that attempted to grasp and express complexities of human and state development, and international relations, greater than those captured by brute or simplistic concepts identified with either Kissinger or McGovern, Obama said the following as well.

[W]ithin America, there has long been a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists — a tension that suggests a stark choice between the narrow pursuit of interests or an endless campaign to impose our values around the world.

I reject these choices…. No matter how callously defined, neither America’s interests — nor the world’s — are served by the denial of human aspirations.

Along with the anti-terror campaign, we can see this complex of beliefs at work in Obama’s response to many of the developments in the Middle East not specifically related to Israel. On the one hand, while Obama’s more idealistic critics on the left and more militant critics on the right judged him harshly for weak support of the Iranian “Green Revolution” of 2009, Obama judged, realistically, that in the absence of evidence that the protests could actually succeed, the U.S. had nothing to gain by appearing one more time, however honorably in American eyes, to support the overthrow of an Iranian government. No greater and forceful expressions of idealistic or militant U.S. support for the protests, absent any inconceivable American military interference, would have made a difference to the outcome. Nothing to gain and historical propaganda points to be lost.

In much bolder terms and against the prospect of much greater losses than a propaganda war, Obama has made the same realistic determination about Syria.

The President received similar criticisms, more heavily weighed from the right, regarding his response to the toppling of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Again, Obama even more finely weighed the apparent tensions between realism and idealism. The President, like every president before him, accepted the realistic necessity, toward other ends, of working with an autocrat like Mubarak. As with Iran, considering an uprising that might not succeed and the political losses that might follow from hasty support for the protests, Obama hedged his bets with middle of the road comments. Once the magnitude of what was occurring became fully apparent, Obama rightly judged that the United States – rather than working in practical self-interest with autocrats – could not be seen, as it was during the Cold War, actively to support autocrats in the repression of their own people.

Avoiding and overcoming such American excesses of the Cold War, and their continuation in too ready post Cold War entry into any but absolutely necessary wars, is central to Obama’s long-term vision of U.S. international realignment. That alignment is away from a unipolar America imperial reach and self-assertion toward an America that is rather a leader in a community of nations. Said Obama in Oslo,

More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.

I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That’s why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.

There is no such mandate in Syria, not a mandate greater, really, than much of the rest of the West pushing American troops into battle. Obama ran in 2008 clearly against such solitary American commitments, especially after over a decade of war in two battle zones, and not to mention the untold unintended consequences that might follow. In Libya, however less consequential the case may seem, other nations, in an extraordinarily rare occurrence, did take the lead in promoting and accepting responsibility for the intervention while the U.S. bore the background brunt of the air and intelligence campaigns. This was precisely what Obama wished under the circumstances as they developed and entirely in keeping with his vision of an American international future.

Among American politicians, Obama is rare in recognizing the essential requirement, more than two decades after the Cold War’s end, of realigning the United States away from the imperial position it assumed in leading democratic forces in that war. Even an imperial sway conceived as benign and beneficial produces a perpetual descending cycle of reinforcing needs and behaviors. The breadth of interests that super power sway requires entails a breadth of power to protect them. A breadth of power generates its own interests. Imperial behavior conceived only as an advancement of noble ends can expand innocently and then be justified, in the maintenance of an imperial nature, as a necessary protection of interests.

Because the U.S. is the sole superpower in the world, it acts to extend the reach of its power (power not being static) in order to maintain itself and to protect the interests that naturally attach to that power’s reach. As the interests expand, the superpower must engage more nations with the purpose of pursuing and maintaining those interests. Ironically, this makes the superpower a supplicant, always needing to negotiate with other nations over those nations’ more natural interests and spheres of power, and far from the natural sphere of the superpower’s interests, because now the world has become its sphere. World security concerns become the superpower’s security concerns, and multiple nations, pursuing their own more vital interests, to some degree of variance with the interests of the superpower, now become problematic concerns.

The current conservative formula is that any reconsideration of this cycle is a disengagement bespeaking weakness. In order to avoid this appearance – indeed, reality – of (relative) weakness, the cycle must be maintained perpetually. The United States, now that it is the sole superpower, must ensure that it remains the sole superpower. If it is not the conquering, occupying power of imperial epochs past, it must now be and remain the imperial power of enforceable influence wherever its interests and security are perceived to reside, and increasingly they are perceived to reside almost everywhere.

Such, however, is part of the historic pattern in the decline of empires.

Chuck Hagel shares this vision with Barak Obama, and in a post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan world, Obama seeks Hagel’s advice and support in directing the nation toward its first profound international realignment since the Second World War. All this is independent of Israel.

The record of Barack Obama’s support for Israel is clear. Policy missteps and symbolic miscues provide fodder to those already otherwise inclined to mistrust him, but the record of action thus far is irrefutable. However, the idealist in Obama, the late twentieth century liberal in him, and the biographical outsider in him – however he may recognize the distinctions between Israel and the autocratic societies that have been its enemies – makes it difficult for him to articulate those differences in cultural or anything resembling Manichean terms, despite his asserted belief in Oslo in the existence of evil. Thus Obama, for all his vision, greater than many around him, of a necessary and better American international future, fails to see more than geopolitically local and limited threats. The limited are non-state organizations such as Al-Qaeda and the like. The local are the normal geopolitical contenders, such as China in Asia, and the historically garden-variety despots such as Gaddafi and Assad. However, there is a greater threat in the world.

A confluence has occurred in the post Cold War world. One stream may be found in Islamist theocratic intolerance, rooted in so many anti-Semitic cultures. This intolerance finds a supportive voice in far left postcolonial rationalizations of the conduct of “marginalized” and “powerless” peoples. It is further abetted by liberal reluctance, like Obama’s, to make cultural claims not only in praise, but in censure. This confluence finds its center in the Middle East, around Israel, and it is the greatest international threat since the fall of the Communist world.

The mystery will remain as to why Obama did not mind disappointing women in rejecting the highly esteemed Michèle Flournoy for Secretary of Defense. It will remain why he did not mind so upsetting so many Jews at his selection of Hagel. It may well have been his calculation that most of the Jews who would object were already opponents who mistrust and criticize him. There is much evidence to support the latter part of that claim.

About Hagel’s ultimate influence over Israel policy, a best case scenario might recall Obama’s obvious desire to surround himself in his cabinet with varied figures of name and stature, among whom he will still make his own final decision. From Mark Bowden’s book The Finish, about the Osama bin Laden decision:

The only major dissenters were [Vice President Joe] Biden and [Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates and, by the next morning, Gates had changed his mind. [Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General James Cartwright and Leiter favored the drone over the raid.]

That is the Vice President and, initially, the Republican and very heavy weight Secretary of Defense disagreeing, and a major military adviser and the director of the National Counter Terrorism Center urging a different option. Obama knows his own mind.

The worst case scenario is that Hagel further weakens a so far bumbling and ineffectual approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that he amplifies Obama’s failure to perceive the larger picture in the Middle East, and that his choice sends exactly the wrong signal to Iran.

The worst case scenario is too real, the consequences too great. That is why Hagel’s choice, despite the sense that can be found in it, is the wrong one.



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The Political Animal

Blasphemy Is not Bigotry


The President has spoken (at the United Nations). People are praising what they think he got right and what he got not so right. (We ignore here today the people who think he gets most everything wrong. They get too much attention anyway.) On the issue of free speech stemming from the “Innocence of Muslims” video and the paroxysms of (I use the word mindfully ) mindless violence that have followed from it, some people – when they think that President Obama got it right – are, along with the President, wrong. Oh, the basic message about freedom of expression is rightfully stated in the usual way, but a crucial point is mangled and will remain the source of misunderstanding.

It all begins with a categorical misunderstanding. Most problems begin with categorical misunderstandings. (You heard it here.) It is the point I make in my most recent commentary at the Algemeiner, “‘Innocence of Muslims’ and the Faith Fallacy.” Faith doctrines are owed no special respect, and the continuing obeisance to the notion that they are deserving of special regard is, in reality, a source of ongoing conflict over them. This is not a claim derived from atheistic thought. It is an intellectual argument, which is the whole point: faith doctrines are intellectual claims, no matter the desire of adherents to sanctify them. They are due no greater respect than any other intellectual claim, and they are due respect only on their merits.

David Frum, no Obama partisan, cited in complement this passage from the President’s speech to the U.N.

The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. Yet to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed, or the Holocaust is denied. Let us condemn incitement against Sufi Muslims, and Shiite pilgrims. It is time to heed the words of Gandhi: “Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.” Together, we must work towards a world where we are strengthened by our differences, and not defined by them. That is what America embodies, and that is the vision we will support.

Here is the President’s categorical error:

Yet to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed, or the Holocaust is denied.

Criticizing – even ridiculing – a religion, in argument or symbolically (desecrating an image of Jesus Christ) is not the same as denying the Holocaust. I am not privileging anything Jewish here. The Holocaust was an historical occurrence: it is a historical fact. Religious doctrines (and the symbols and figures that represent those doctrines) are not facts. They are sets of ideas. Disagreeing with, and even disdaining, an idea is not the same as denying a historical fact. This is simply a fundamental intellectual error, a categorical confusion, that President Obama has perpetuated in the desire to represent himself and the U.S. in a balanced, ecumenical manner. It would actually have been very easy to achieve coherently the balance the President sought, merely by choosing a symbolic representation (a Jewish Star?) of the Jewish faith rather than a historic calamity that befell the Jewish people.

Of course, the contextual incoherence of that intellectual coherence would have been the reality that unpleasant attacks against Jews are not made on the basis of their faith, but their being, as Jews. Holocaust denial is not a manifestation of intellectual dispute – it is a product of racial prejudice. Christianity and Islam and all the rest of the religions are doctrines and traditions, but not ethnic identities. Disagreement with or even dislike of Christianity, Hinduism, or Islam, however intellectually sound or unsound, is an adverse judgment against someone’s beliefs, not a bigotry against someone’s person.

Jeffrey Goldberg also responded to the President’s speech with some praise and some reservation. I know he fully agrees with me on the absoluteness of the principle. He even cites Hussien Ibish, who is very much to the point:

Blasphemy is an indispensable human right. Without the right to engage in blasphemy, there can be no freedom of inquiry, expression, conscience or religion.

You see the point? Blasphemy is not the blemish on free speech with which we must live. (You want that face? The pimples come with it.) It is the very essence of free speech. Goldberg demurred in a merely personal way:

Blasphemy, as Hussein Ibish argues, is an indispensable human right. I’m not much into blasphemy myself — I generally find it offensive. But as Americans, we are compelled to defend the right of any blasphemer to be an asshole.

This only half gets the point. The blasphemer may be an asshole. Manifestly, many non-blasphemers are assholes. But the blasphemer is not an asshole because a blasphemer. Blaspheming is the very root of disagreement. It is the original “no”: “no” spoken, no shouted, no painted on one’s forehead, no as even the way one lives one’s life. Every great mind is a blaspheming mind.   In the notion of blasphemy, the authoritarian dressed in priestly garb attempts to sanctify the secular (the idea become a faith), close the mind and crush the personality. Every dissenting mind, presuming to disagree, first, before the argument is even articulated, says, “No.” And freedom flourishes.

Blasphemy is not the bastard, the black sheep, the bad seed of freedom. Blasphemy is freedom.



The Palestinian Failure


Munib al-Masri

Some nations are lucky in their leaders. For decades now, academic historians have downplayed the significance of the leader – the “great man” – in the understanding of historical epochs and focused their attention elsewhere. Still, you cannot study the early American republic without renewed appreciation for the role of George Washington. How lucky was the U.S. again for Lincoln in his time, FDR in his, England for Churchill at the same time, Israel for David Ben Gurion. The French were not so lucky at the time of their revolution. The Palestinian Arabs, too, have had no Ben Gurion. They had Yassar Arafat.

A couple of weeks ago, Munib R. al-Masri, a storied figure among Palestinians and considered to be the wealthiest of them all, published an Op-Edin The New York Times. al-Masri is quite a moderate Palestinian, who is currently seeking a third way, beside the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, and trying to construct avenues toward peace with Israeli counterparts. Still, he must operate in the Palestinian environment created over the past sixty-plus years, and there are party lines he chooses to follow. He claimed, for instance, as the title of his Op-Ed read, in response to the well-publicized comment by Mitt Romney, that “Occupation, Not Culture, Is Holding Palestinians Back.” My point is not to comment on Romney’s observation, but al-Masri’s – that it is any Israeli “occupation” or other activity that has held Palestinians back. In fact, I don’t need to make that case. Seven years ago, in David Samuels’  lengthy “In a Ruined Country,” for the Atlantic, al-Masri made the case himself.

The money [Arafat] spent to buy the loyalty of his court, al-Masri gently suggests, could easily have paid for a functioning Palestinian state instead.

“With three hundred, four hundred million dollars we could have built Palestine in ten years. Waste, waste, waste. I flew over the West Bank in a helicopter with Arafat at the beginning of Oslo, and I told him how easy we could make five, six, seven towns here; we could absorb a lot of people here; and have the right of return for the refugees. If you have good intentions and you say you want to reach a solution, we could do it. I said, if you have money and water, it could be comparable to Israel, this piece of land.”

Samuels expanded.

For those at the top of the heap the rewards were much larger and more systematic. The amounts of money stolen from the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people through the corrupt practices of Arafat’s inner circle are so staggeringly large that they may exceed one half of the total of $7 billion in foreign aid contributed to the Palestinian Authority. The biggest thief was Arafat himself. The International Monetary Fund has conservatively estimated that from 1995 to 2000 Arafat diverted $900 million from Palestinian Authority coffers, an amount that did not include the money that he and his family siphoned off through such secondary means as no-bid contracts, kickbacks, and rake-offs. A secret report prepared by an official Palestinian Authority committee headed by Arafat’s cousin concluded that in 1996 alone, $326 million, or 43 percent of the state budget, had been embezzled, and that another $94 million, or 12.5 percent of the budget, went to the president’s office, where it was spent at Arafat’s personal discretion. An additional 35 percent of the budget went to pay for the security services, leaving a total of $73 million, or 9.5 percent of the budget, to be spent on the needs of the population of the West Bank and Gaza. The financial resources of the PLO, which may have amounted to somewhere between one and two billion dollars, were never included in the PA budget. Arafat hid his personal stash, estimated at $1 billion to $3 billion, in more than 200 separate bank accounts around the world, the majority of which have been uncovered since his death.

Contrary to the comic-book habits of some Third World leaders, such as President Mobutu Sese Seko, of Zaire, and Saddam Hussein, Arafat eschewed lurid displays of wealth. His corruption was of a more sober-minded type. He was a connoisseur of power, who used the money that he stole to buy influence, to provoke or defuse conspiracies, to pay gunmen, and to collect hangers-on the way other men collect stamps or butterflies. Arafat had several advisers who oversaw the system of patronage and theft, which was convincingly outlined in a series of investigative articles by Ronen Bergman that appeared during the late 1990s in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. The PLO treasurer, Nizar Abu Ghazaleh, ran the company al-Bahr (“the Sea”) for a small number of wealthy shareholders, including Arafat’s wife, Suha. Al-Bahr set the price of a ton of cement in Gaza at $74, of which $17 went into Arafat’s private bank account. One of Arafat’s favorite bagmen, Harbi Sarsour, ran the General Petroleum Company, which established a monopoly over all the gasoline and fuel-oil products sold in the West Bank and Gaza. A company called al-Sakhra (“the Rock”), run by Fuad Shubaki on behalf of Fatah, profited hugely from an exclusive contract to provide all uniforms and other supplies to the Palestinian security forces. Official monopolies on basic goods and services had exclusive suppliers on the Israeli side. These profitable contracts were made available by Arafat to companies associated with former high-ranking members of the Israeli civil administration and the security services in the West Bank and Gaza.

The genius behind this system was Muhammad Rachid, who became Arafat’s closest economic adviser. A onetime protégé of Abu Jihad, Rachid was a former magazine editor who became involved in the diamond business. He came to Arafat’s attention because of his keen talent as a businessman, and because he was an ethnic Kurd—which meant that he was safely removed from the family- and clan-based politics that always threatened to disrupt the division of the spoils.

In their cities and villages Palestinians were subject to the extortion and violence of Arafat’s overlapping security services, which competed among themselves for payoffs, arbitrarily arrested people and seized their land, and forced citizens to pay double or triple the price for everything from flour and gasoline to cigarettes, razor blades, and sheep feed. The fact that nearly everyone in Palestinian political life had taken something directly from Arafat’s hand made it hard to criticize him; it was easier to go along. In 1991, at the low point of Fatah’s finances, Ali Shahin, one of Arafat’s earliest allies, wrote a secret report lambasting Fatah’s “inconceivable moral degradation,” for which he blamed the excesses of a leader whose true interests were “the red carpet, the private plane of the President, free rein to spend money.” Shahin became the minister of supplies in Arafat’s government and was notorious for selling spoiled flour and making truckloads of chocolates sit at the Erez checkpoint in the heat in order to help out a friend who owned the only candy factory in Gaza. The economy of the Palestinian territories, which had enjoyed startlingly high growth rates after 1967, when it passed from Jordanian and Egyptian control into the hands of the Israelis, stagnated and then went backward. In less than a decade Yasir Arafat and his clique managed to squander not only the economic well-being but also the considerable moral capital amassed by the Palestinian people during two and a half decades of Israeli military rule.

Samuels later gives us Gazan human-rights activist Iyad Sarraj.

“Palestinians have lost the battle because of their lack of organization and because they have been captives of rhetoric and sloganeering rather than actual work,” he says. “I believe that the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians in one way or the other is between development and underdevelopment, civilization and backwardness. Israel was established on the rule of law, on democratization, and certain principles that would advance Israel, while the Arabs and the Palestinians were waiting always for the prophet, for the rescuer, for the savior, the mahdi. Arafat came, and everyone hung their hats on him without realizing that there is a big gap between the rescuer and the actual work that needs to be done. This is where the Palestinians lost again the battle. They lost it in ’48 because of their backwardness, ignorance, and lack of organization in how to confront the Zionist enemy. They lost it when they had the chance to build a state, because the PA was absolutely corrupt and disorganized.”

There probably has never been a people more ill-served by a greater lack of leadership, a greater financial and moral corruption of leadership, than the Palestinian people. And there is a lot of competition.

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Anti-Labor, Anti-Free Press, Anti-Gay, Anti-Israel


Some people never get the point. Some people once got the point, or claimed to, claimed to see it – there it is, over there – and then they got their hands on the point and stretched the point, to make a point, turned it inside out, inverted and perverted the point, developed a string theory of the point, and later conceived an alternate universe of the point.

From Eric Lee, examining the role of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre on the contemporary history of left anti-Semitism:

This may be news to some, but what is today commonplace was once quite rare. I’m referring to anti-Semitism on the far Left — and am reminded of what some of us saw as a turning point back in 1972.

For a quarter of a century following the defeat of Nazi Germany, anti-Semites everywhere were laying low — especially in the West. The Soviet leadership was growing increasingly anti-Jewish and anti-Israel, and anti-Semitism was rife in the Arab world, but in countries like the USA, it was quite rare for Jew-hatred to be expressed openly. And certainly not on the Left.


Accusations of Jew-hatred are today greeted with a shrug.

What was so shocking 40 years ago — that a socialist organisation would identify somehow with a brutal terrorist attack on innocent people if those people happen to be Jewish — is commonplace now.

From the The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), a global union federation of over 600.000 journalists in 134 countries, on August 2:

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today accused Hamas security forces of harassing elected officials of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate (PJS) in Gaza. In a letter to Ismael Haniyeh, Prime Minister in the Hamas government, the IFJ President said that journalists’ leaders in Gaza have been subjected to a campaign of intimidation and threats designed to force them to stop their union work. Some of them are now facing charges of illegal activities and a travel ban after they refused to give in to pressure.

“We consider the accusations against our colleagues of illegal activity and theft of the union identity a malicious accusation which should be dropped immediately,” said IFJ President Jim Boumelha in his letter. “They should be allowed to work without restrictions and the travel ban imposed on them must be lifted.”

The IFJ says that the campaign against the PJS board members in the Gaza strip started in March, after their election. It included the raid organised by supporters of Hamas who took over the PJS offices in Gaza with the help of security forces and evicted the staff and elected officials.

The harassment has recently escalated in targeting of individual members who were bullied into stopping union work. According to PJS, its Vice President Tahseen Al Astal and a colleague are being investigated by Hamas Attorney General and have been banned from travelling. The investigation was launched shortly after the two officials defied the order to cease their activities in the union, the PJS says.

Said TULIP (Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine):

The contrast could not be clearer: in Israel, independent trade unions that sometimes cooperate with, sometimes confront the government. In areas controlled by the pro-Iranian Hamas, unions under the thumb of an authoritarian regime.

And then there is the Death Star of of the lost point point, the inverted point, what’s the point pointlessness of “pinkwashing,” which combines the subversion of every pillar of human dignity: personal and political liberty and human and civil rights. From Jonathan Miller:

Israel’s commendable gay rights record should be a cause for the American Left to celebrate.  But in the Orwellian dystopia that is our political discourse today, the Israel-is-always-wrong crowd has used Israeli publicity of its proud LGBT culture as yet another reason to criticize the Jewish State.

Borrowing a term coined by the breast cancer prevention community to describe companies that claim to care about the disease but at the same time sell carcinogenic products, the anti-Israel crowd has redefined “pinkwashing” as Israeli propaganda designed to hypnotize American liberals into ignoring Israel’s transgressions in the disputed territories.

The most quotable advocate of this terminology is CUNY English Professor Sarah Schulman, who  described her objective as trying to frame the Palestinian cause with simpler language, “like in the kinds of magazines you read in the laundromat.”  (Perhaps “pinkwashing” is supposed to remind laundromat users of the infuriating consequences of leaving a red shirt in a white washload?)

Schulman’s proof of Israel’s nefarious, designs?  She quotes a Tel Aviv law professor who claims that “conservative and especially religious politicians remain fiercely homophobic.”  A comment that’s about as probative and relevant as a “Yo Mama” joke.

Indeed, the explanation is so simple, it’s hard to imagine any alternative reasoning.  It’s called capitalism, or more precisely, tourism promotion: Israel brags about its extraordinary LGBT culture in order to encourage gay and lesbian people from all over the world to visit the Jewish State and bring their tourist dollars. Considering the subject matter, it’s a remarkable and heartening development:  I can only dream of a time when my home state of Kentucky would launch advertisement campaigns to encourage gay and lesbian people to visit our beautiful state parks.

And what’s the alternative?  Should Israel hide its vibrant LGBT culture so as not to offend the senses of radical anti-Zionists?  Doesn’t this call to the closet run precisely counter to the extraordinarily effective strategy launched by gay-rights martyr Harvey Milk, who presciently argued that when people learned that their family, friends, and neighbors were gay — that gay people too can do “heroic things” — they’d understand that homosexuality was not “abnormal sexual behavior”?

Some of the “pinkwashing” logic has been so stained by the BDS spin cycle that that it verges on parody.  Professor Jasbir Puar, who teaches women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University, argued at an April 2012 New York forum that the Israeli occupation “is one of the most contentious issues in queer organizing today.”  When questioned about the Gaza government’s treatment of gay and lesbian people, she retorted that “it doesn’t take away from the fact that there is an occupation.  We can’t judge a country by its attitudes towards homosexuals.”

Get the point?

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Israel The Political Animal

The Mystery of Terrorism, Revealed

Cross posted at The Times of Israel.

When I wrote the other day about our dumbness before the phenomenon of terrorism – so often the wanton and random killing in large numbers of those who must by any non-self-justifying reason be considered innocents – I was invoking the mystery of the moral self that can rise to so horrendous an act. Most of us will never fathom it.

I hereby revise myself.

While I am no promoter of the “banality of evil,” the commonplace has its role. Evil, human evil, in its purest form surely is the vileness, the befoulment of human sympathy we imagine it to be. It is the general of the armies of moral ugliness, hatred, and corruption. But it has its privates, its clerks – its professors and attorneys too, like PR hacks and mob lawyers. It is so often, at the head of cutthroat guerrilla insurgencies in the jungle, some highly educated soul who lost himself in an idea, amid the complexity of ideas, and so chose the simple one, in order to clarify, of murder.

A couple of weeks ago at Electronic Intifada we had Linah Alsaafin‘s “How obsession with ‘nonviolence’ harms the Palestinian cause.” That is to say, as a magnification of the mind behind the work, not “concern” with nonviolence, but “obsession,” as if one were overly fixated on double-checking light switches or on pantyhose. Alsaafin is a young, recent college graduate – a major in English literature – born in Wales to Palestinian parents and mostly raised in the UK and the U.S., now living on the West Bank. According to her Twitter page‘s romantic ejaculation,

I starve myself for you to remain. I die for you to live. Stay with the revolution.

Having discovered, like some of her age and temperament, that the world began with her birth, and conflict – its intolerances and rationales, and the suffering they engender – truly, with her consciousness of them, Alsaafin writes at Electronic Intifada,

Nowadays, Israelis and internationals and unfortunately even some “enlightened” Palestinians champion “nonviolent resistance” and consider throwing a rock to be a violent act. The argument goes that throwing rocks tarnishes the reputation of Palestinians in the western world and immediately negates the “nonviolent/peaceful” resistance movement. This argument falls into the trap of western- (read, colonizer) dictated methods of acceptable means to resist.

Oppressed people do not and should not have to explain their oppression to their oppressor, nor tailor their resistance to the comfort of the oppressors and their supporters.

So we begin with stock, ideologically reductive, historically obscurantist renderings of the world, in which a single senseless sentence undoes all Alsaafin’s education and all the ground for any of the ideas in which she herself believes.

Then we move on to an even more highly educated and older voice, Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. Falk’s cognitive disability in the political area for which he was chosen by the UN to serve is well documented, and exemplified in detail by my analysis of the gross distortions of the Global Policy Forum, of which Falk is a former director. Relevant here is his further descent into ideologized cultural self-debasement and intellectual incoherence. Having read Alsaafin, by whom Falk feels instructed and further enlightened, he writes,

The posture of solidarity with the struggle of “the other” is more complex than it might appear at first glance. It seems a simple act to join with others in opposing severe injustice and cruelty, especially when its reality is experienced and witnessed first-hand, as I have for several decades in relation to the Palestinian struggle.


The witness of unwelcome truths should always exhibit a posture of humility, not making judgments about the tactics of struggle employed by those fighting against oppression, and not supplying the solutions for those whose destinies are directly and daily affected by a deep political struggle. To do otherwise is to pretend to be the purveyor of greater wisdom and morality than those enduring victimisation. In the Palestine/Israel conflict it is up to the parties, the peoples themselves and their authentic representatives, to find the path to a sustainable and just peace, although it seems permissible for outsiders to delineate the distribution of rights that follow from an application of international law and to question whether the respective peoples are being legitimately represented.


[Alsaafin] persuasively insists that for sympathetic observers and allies to worship at the altar of Palestinian non-violence is to cede to the West the authority to determine what are acceptable and unacceptable forms of Palestinian struggle. This is grotesquely hypocritical considering the degree to which Western militarism is violently unleashed around the planet to maintain structures of oppression and exploitation, more benignly described as “national interests”. In effect, the culturally sanctioned political morality of the West is indicative of an opportunistically split personality: nonviolence for your struggle, violence for ours. Well-meaning liberals, by broadcasting such an insidious message, are not to be welcomed as true allies.

Having, then, ceded the ground of reason and all ethical consideration to the calculus of grievance and rage – it is not explained how, other than by the whiteness Alsaafin invokes, or the Westernness that Falk does, one group’s victimized self-identification is weighed against another’s, preventing a free-for-all of unchallengeable forms of struggle – Falk confounds his tortured notions in incoherence. Now he asserts,

At the same time, there are some universal values at stake that Alsaafin does not pause to acknowledge. Two of these truths are intertwined in bewildering complexity: no outsider has the moral authority or political legitimacy to tell those enduring severe oppression how to behave; no act of violence, whatever the motivation, that is directed against an innocent child or civilian bystander is morally acceptable or legally permissible, even if it seems politically useful. Terrorism is terrorism whether the acts are performed by the oppressor or the oppressed, and for humanity to move towards any kind of collective emancipation, such universal principles must be affirmed as valid, and respected by militants.

Is it too redundant to state outright that this completely contradicts Falk’s previous paragraph above? Falk will contradict himself several more times as he closes, including this reversion, in opposition to the above.

We all need to remember that each struggle has its own originality that is historically, politically, and culturally conditioned, and the Palestinian struggle is no exception.

One need not wonder very much how this kind of thinking can produce the sense that anything is permissible – justified by the “historically, politically, and culturally conditioned,” in the name of the two-headed god of resistance and struggle.

What might be needed to complete this intellectual journey to terror? Only the answer to the question I posed above, about how to weigh competing claims. For this we need Glenn Greenwald, late, soon, of, on his way to an even more fitting home at the Guardian, in responding to the Burgas terrorism.

I have no idea who is behind the attacks. If it turns out to be Hezbollah and/or Iran, that will not shock me: after all, if it is perceived that you have sent hit squads onto a country’s soil to murder their nuclear scientists, it’s likely that the targeted nation will want to respond with violence of their own.

Embedded in this very brief but profound corruption of historical and moral review are two distinct failures of judgment. Greenwald first suggests a chain of events leading to Burgas, so that we not simplistically conceive of the bombing as an isolated and easily judged act of terror. It is a consequence, and thereby loses some weight of morally assignable blameworthiness. It is, you know, as always, understandable. (We ignore here that Greenwald’s whole post criticizes reliance on the unsubstantiated perception of Israel and the U.S. that Hezbollah and Iran were behind the attack, yet relies on a similar unsubstantiated perception – “if it is perceived” – to quasi-justify Burgas.) The chain of events is notably short, however, and stops at suggested Israeli acts. Could we trace a longer chain? Of course, we could, though Greenwald obviously wishes not to. So in the few links that Greenwald offers, the first and originally causative one is Israeli.

If, rather, we were to extract from those sentences a world-weary gesture toward the infinite regression of links and causes, the unending chain of grievance between opposing sides – as between Israel and the Palestinians – that seems always the foundation of irresolvable conflict, we could abandon the futile search for root fault and assess the parties in their present form. In that present form, too, Greenwald finds Israel wanting and Hezbollah and Iran just that uncertain step short of excusable we can call excuse-makeable.

Either way we consider the matter and the more general situation, Greenwald’s sympathies are not, as they never are, with Israel, even relative to Hezbollah and Iran. He observes the actors of the world in all of their worldly complexity and determines that Israel is one of the malevolent actors in it, whereas theocratic, anti-Semitic and repressive Iran is one of the state actors whose conduct needs to be understood – rationalized – in context. Greenwald does not actually sanction terrorist attacks; he simply understands their occurrence situationally. The situation is one in which Iran warrants our understanding and Israel does not.

Greenwald’s voice, then, is that of the lawyer, in these times most often prosecuting the Obama administration, while also making the defense attorney’s sympathetic plea before the jury for the perpetrators of mass-murder attacks. It is, rather, the passionate, youthful zealot, “starving” for her people, “dying” that they may live, who offers the intellectual rationale for murder and why no outsiders, including the  victims, have intellectual or moral standing to protest the justice of their ends. It is the aged professor, clinging to rhetorical habits, like a prayer recited by heart but in which all belief has been lost, who calls out weakly in his shame and doubt, ‘Thou shalt not kill,” but also, “We may not judge.”

And we have terrorism.


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The Political Animal

Alexander Cockburn: Remembering the Dead

Alexander Cockburn. Photo: screenshot via cspan.

Cross posted at the Algemeiner.

It really is the ultimate sentimentality.

That concern with how we will be remembered, or how those for whom we care will be treated in the minds of others, or who is saying what about whom now gone. It is too obvious to say we will never know the reputations we will have: that we project, we project. Every thought about the future outside of the most simple heavenly fantasies is a projection. We cast our wishes into the coming times and imagine that a reality that will not be ours is one that can make a difference to us. Good people have had their heads cut off, noble people been tortured in and into obscurity, infants murdered. What matter if some people think you a philanderer, a schnorrer, a charitable woman, a nice guy when you are gone? You know you take a secret self with you. They are anyway bound to get you wrong; for sure, not entirely right.

Certainly we would prefer not to leave a foul or evil reputation, at least for the benefit of those we care about, still living. There was a Greek fall not just for Oedipus and Joe Paterno, but for their families, too. Still, the big falls, the little ones, we can’t control them. Maybe Donald Trump has no idea how quickly his name will fade, even from the building facades that bear it, a name that will stand for grandiose buffoonery the way a doctor’s name was Mudd.

Still, we try to project our egos into the after-here. We are not, no we aren’t, wholly rational creatures. Strange, then, the effort of Alexander Cockburn, or for him, of some who claim to admire him. Cockburn died on Friday, and now the first final assessment begins. As for any person, there are those who loved him and who thought him good, and more. There are others – plenty – of radical left and contrarian temperaments, who think his journalism was groundbreaking and worthwhile.

"The Politics of Anti-Semitism" by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. Photo: AK Press.Many others, in contrast, will point out as long as necessary that Cockburn made a career of trafficking in every bitter, unsubtle and self-defeating excess of far left thought, to which he later added the same from the right. More, he was one of the voices on the Western left who introduced the incoherence of promoting oneself as “anti-racist” while simultaneously mocking and scorning the oldest grounds for anti-racism our woebegone civilization has produced: anti-Semitism.

It is inconceivable, of course, that any form of racism could prevail in any culture, nation, or region of the earth without the proper focus of unremitting attention, labeling, and combat from the left. With a modest swell of anti-Muslim feeling in the United States since 9/11, the left has joined with those combating anti-immigrant sentiment and the long-presiding, even institutionalized racism against African-Americans. Yet with the entire Middle East region and much of the Islamic world steeped in the vilest manifestations of anti-Semitism, the labeling of that racism has become just that ground for rejection and mockery that Alexander Cockburn helped establish.

You will not hear a voice on the left – as you will from the right – deride accusations of racism against Blacks. You will not encounter on the library shelves, books by longstanding writers of The Nation entitled The Politics of Racism, though Cockburn, who was that Nation contributor, did co-author and co-edit The Politics of Anti-Semitism, with such contributors as Cynthia McKinney, Robert Fisk, and Norman Finkelstein. If the calculations of justice and the moral equation in the Middle East, and for Jews, became garbled in only the second thirty years after the Holocaust, producing garbage, Alexander Cockburn was a journalist who played a prominent role in that outcome.

Given an easy opportunity to provide evidence of an unprejudiced mind – a typically bilious column piling on the mean, small-tongued Don Imus when the broadcaster finally went too far on his radio program – Cockburn found words to name every group-victim of Imus’s sewered mind but Jews.

Said Marc Cooper, once a colleague of Cockburn’s, “He forfeited becoming a very influential writer in favor of becoming a mud-throwing polemicist.”

At best, I say. But others will say differently. Jeffrey St. Clair, the longtime colleague and friend who co-edited with Cockburn the journal CounterPunch, which Cooper saw as a “rhetorical and intellectual dead end,” plans in that publication a series of “tributes to Alex from his friends and colleagues,” so there will be that effort to determine how Cockburn is remembered. But as I suggested, St. Clair made a strange choice to begin with.

In the two sentence paragraph lede, St. Clair announced over the weekend:

Our friend and comrade Alexander Cockburn died last night in Germany, after a fierce two-year long battle against cancer. His daughter Daisy was at his bedside.

The effort at memory setting begins in the next paragraph:

Alex kept his illness a tightly guarded secret. Only a handful of us knew how terribly sick he truly was. He didn’t want the disease to define him. He didn’t want his friends and readers to shower him with sympathy. He didn’t want to blog his own death as Christopher Hitchens had done.

Among the notable features of Cockburn’s life was his earlier friendship and later falling out – politically and personally – with Christopher Hitchens. Connor Simpson at the Atlantic rather overstates the case when he writes that:

most of all, [Cockburn] will likely be remembered as Christopher Hitchens’ foil.

Though maybe not, in light of that odd swipe, from grave to grave, at the manner in which Hitchens lived his final days and did his own last work. It is hard to imagine, under the circumstances, that Cockburn would not have discussed with St. Clair the manner in which the former’s death would be announced in his own publication. Cockburn did write his own unsparing epitaph for Hitchens on the occasion of that death. Either way, the rancor, among the first words in memory after Cockburn’s passing, marks a petty and graceless public, if not private, exit. Let the remembering begin.



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Dear Nicholas Kristof, You Are a Fool


Let’s begin with the title of that ejaculation of tendentious nonsense you and The New York Times have passed off as thoughtful commentary by a serious commentator on international affairs.

Is Israel Its Own Worst Enemy?”

Really, you mean that? You haven’t heard that spoken around the block a time or two. It’s your own, its original, you came up with it yourself in a flash of wordsmithing insight? In comparison to anti-Semitic terror organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas, and whole national governments of like nature – Iran – and Palestinian and other Arab public officials who repeatedly reveal in interviews to Mideast media that their true, private intent is never to accept Israel and even to destroy it, and a sea of racist religious, educational and cultural inculcation all around it, you ask if Israel is its own worst enemy?

Oh, it’s just hyperbole? Is it? Is that how you meant it? And in either case, you think such a trite formulation will educate your readers on the situation? You think it grasps essential rhetorical hold of a conflict spanning nearly a century and of the current moment too? This is the concentrated extract of your understanding?

You begin,

For decades, Palestinian leaders sometimes seemed to be their own people’s worst enemies. Palestinian radicals antagonized the West, and, when militant leaders turned to hijackings and rockets, they undermined the Palestinian cause around the world. They empowered Israeli settlers and hard-liners, while eviscerating Israeli doves.

This curiously, dumbly (as in mute, but make of it further as you will) frames that history as tactical error. But what was the aim of that terrorism? To reject Israel and make war, not just on Israel, but Jews, and others, around the world. To deny Israel peace and its very existence, just as was hoped in 1947. And you offer, instead of that clear truth, the empowerment of “Israeli settlers and hard-liners” as the unfortunate consequence of what were not only tactics but a strategy. All this hateful and warlike history has, in your expression of its consequences, the empowerment of Israeli hardliners as it worst outcome. What an odd distillation of historical meaning.

You write,

Nothing is more corrosive than Israel’s growth of settlements because they erode hope of a peace agreement in the future.

Nothing? Nothing is more corrosive? Really? (Why does your writing on this subject evoke repeated reality checks?) Are you unaware – are you Mr. Kristof – of the history and currency of Arab anti-Semitism? Its religious and political, even national, expression in every nation surrounding Israel, in schools, in media, in religious worship and sermon, in songs taught to children? Do you know how long is the history of this anti-Semitism? How far back in time, in contrast, do those settlements, the ones you are talking about (which ones, actually, are you talking about?) go in the history of this conflict? Do you care to meditate a little more deeply on matters of causation? But really (that word again) the settlements are more corrosive than that acid of hate that runs through the culture of the Arab world?

You acknowledge,

Every negotiator knows the framework of a peace agreement — 1967 borders with land swaps, Jerusalem as the capital of both Israeli and Palestinian states, only a token right of return.

I wonder, Mr. Kristof, do you know why “every negotiator knows the framework of a peace agreement”? I mean can you review history a bit better than you’ve done so far and articulate how it is exactly that this truism of future outcomes has become that truism? I’m an impatient man. Forgive me. I’ll tell you: because the framework is indeed reasonable – and because Israel has on multiple occasions tentatively accepted (pending Palestinian agreement) or even itself offered these terms. It is Israel, in its acknowledged acquiescence to these rough parameters, that has made them the distantly perceived resolution that “every negotiator knows.” Can you offer a single instance of Palestinian negotiators having accepted these rough parameters or offered a like plan themselves, in toto? My arms are folded, my feet are tapping, I don’t mean to be rude.

You refer to

the demographic and political change within Israeli society, which has made the country more conservative when it comes to border and land issues.

I don’t wish to deny the truth in this. We are about seeing the complexity of situations and conflicts around here and not simplifying and distorting them – at least some of us are – but how is it you do not yourself acknowledge how decades of war and terror, and the horrific second intifada coming off Oslo, and after Camp David, turned many Israelis on the left to a harder right? You’re a reporter. I understand you travel a great deal. I’m confident you could find very large numbers of Israelis who meet that description. It isn’t  just “demographic” change, and by the way that word isn’t the simple comfortable placeholder for historical experience you intend it to be. But that’s for another time. So I’ll just ask again – why do you not mention here the effect on the Israeli electorate of Palestinian rejectionism and terror ?

Speaking of mention – I really do have to mention this:

That’s the saddest thing about the Middle East: hard-liners like Hamas empower hard-liners like Mr. Netanyahu.

Now, we’re both writers (well, you’re a tad more famous, with a few more awards, and you make a lot more money than I do – but we’re all brothers and sisters in the trade, right?) – does this particular column of yours leave you the least bit wary at this point of absolutes and superlatives? That’s “the saddest thing about the Middle East”? Benjamin Netanyahu? Not Hamas itself? What’s sad about Hamas is that it empowers Netanyahu? Netanyahu is worse than a genocidally constituted terror organization? Worse than Bashir Assad? Or Hezbollah or all that, you know, stuff I’ve already mentioned? The saddest thing? My goodness, Mr. Kristof, that is sad, and one can well understand those friends of yours whom you anticipate thinking you “unfair and harsh” thinking you – well, unfair and harsh is the least of it.

There are many only a little finer points to challenge in your column, but in the interests of length I have been focusing only on the howlers. I don’t mean funny, Mr. Kristof, I mean scream. I’ll close with the somewhat less obvious but greatest of them all, because you are a journalist of distinction, and I know that once pointed out to you it will be embarrassingly manifest. You close,

Some of my Israeli friends will think I’m unfair and harsh, applying double standards by focusing on Israeli shortcomings while paying less attention to those of other countries in the region. Fair enough: I plead guilty. I apply higher standards to a close American ally like Israel that is a huge recipient of American aid.

Friends don’t let friends drive drunk — or drive a diplomatic course that leaves their nation veering away from any hope of peace. Today, Israel’s leaders sometimes seem to be that country’s worst enemies, and it’s an act of friendship to point that out.

Now I want you to think about the logical implications of what you claim here. You acknowledge applying a higher standard to Israel, which rationalize it however you wish – “close American ally,” “huge recipient of American aid” – means a double standard. I clarify this point because we need to know, as they say, where you’re coming from. We talkin’ hardball, amoral client-state geopolitics here, or are we moralizing? Interested people want to know. Because in the first instance, sure – you takes the money, you do our bidding. The Soviet Union was awfully clear about that arrangement. Some people think the U.S. is more that way than it should be. I have previously understood that you might be one of those people. Perhaps I was mistaken.

If, on the other hand, you are moralizing, which I think is the tone, really, of your outpouring, then it is incumbent on us to acknowledge that double standards are not a very moral thing. Everybody has to play by the same rules, don’t you think, and nations all be held to the same standards? Aren’t the injustices of the world already deeply historically embedded in the truth that nations acted in variance from this moral imperative?

But more, Mr. Kristof, more. Your criticisms of Israel throughout your column are presented as objective realities: you look at the situation and what you perceive as the objective reality is what you have put down on paper for all to read. But when you write that you are holding Israel to a higher standard, that suggests something other. That suggests that at every point in your column where a judgment was offered, and no advise was provided as to how that judgment might be made according to equal standards, and how it was now being altered – distorted we might say – by the double standard, your argument is being subverted. You offer it all as true, and then in the end you say that all of it is not really true, but true by a special standard, a standard prejudicial toward Israel. You have rendered your entire argument – which wasn’t really an argument anyway, but a string of undisciplined hyperboles – entirely without force.

You compound this by closing with that tired refrain that you so misrepresent the history and the present of the Middle East, and prejudice untold readers against Israel – readers armed now with the ignorance and warped righteousness that is the currency of this historical moment – because you are Israel’s friend.

And friends, don’t you know, don’t let friends drive drunk. Or make fools of themselves either. They step in. They take away the keys. Or the keyboard. And I’m your friend, Mr. Kristof. I really am.

I mean it.



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The State Solution: Yes, for South Sudan; No, for Israel

Hedar Sela has an incisive piece at The Propagandist that sharply zeroes in on the true nature of the so-called “one-state solution.” (H/T CiFWatch).

Readers of political commentary on the Middle East will frequently see reference to the ‘one-state solution’ in relation to the Arab-Israeli conflict. What perhaps is often not sufficiently clear is what lies behind that particular political ethos, exactly who is promoting it and why.

Advocates of the ‘one state solution’ are, by definition, opposed to the two-state solution – i.e. the creation, as a result of negotiations between the relevant parties, of a Palestinian State which will exist side by side – hopefully in peace and good neighbourly relations – with the Jewish State of Israel.  This has been the premise behind the entire peace process since 1993. It is the basis upon which the Oslo Accords and later the Roadmap were built. It was the logic behind Israel’s agreeing to the PLO being allowed to establish the Palestinian Authority and Israeli concessions on areas A and B. It is also the concept upon which all diplomatic efforts to bring peace to the region have been – and still are – based.

That’s by way of introduction, and though it is a longer essay, with much relevant detail, here is the essential point, about the nature of the Hamas rejection of the two-state solution and unacknowledged but unavoidably fundamental alignment between Hamas and other – so-called, again – human rights advocates of the one-state idea.

Many in the West (though by no means all) are able to recognise the rejectionist Hamas stance for what it is because the religious rhetoric and medieval-style language employed by its leaders to state the Hamas case is easy to identify as being rooted in Islamist theology and little attempt is made to hide the anti-Semitic attitudes behind the political-theological stance according to which, Jews must not be permitted to have their own state in the Middle East.

Less easy for many Westerners to understand is the similarity between the Hamas stance and that of advocates of the ‘one state solution’. One reason for that is because its advocates steer clear of religious rhetoric; instead they present their case clothed in the language of human rights; making reference to international law, justice, democracy, secularism and equality – all concepts with which it is significantly easier for the Western mind to connect and empathise.

However, the bottom line of the one-state proposal in fact differs little from that of the Hamas ‘solution’ to the problems of the Middle East in that both see the eradication of the Jewish State as the answer to the conflict.

Curiously, enough, in contemporary contrast, few seem to have any philosophical difficulty with the recent creation of South Sudan. Marxist-inspired and other partisans of consigning nationalism to the trash bin of history – and who appear to find the creation of Israel alone anathema, among the scores of nations created since World War II – have not found their voice over South Sudan. There is no call, among differing and violently antagonistic ethnic and religious groups, for a counter-intuitive one-state solution to Sudanese conflict. Perhaps because we all know how well such a solution worked in the former Yugoslavia, or how, after over seventy years of being yoked together, the ethnically diverse republics of the former Soviet Union longed still to be one people.

I did, above, say curiously, though. For one party has spoken out against the creation of South Sudan (H/T Rubin Reports):

PA official Abd Al-Rahman, Director General of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ office, accused Israel of being involved in a conspiracy to divide Sudan, saying that “there are other conspiracies which the occupation (i.e., Israel) plans so as to cause a decrease [in attention] to the Palestinian cause and to turn it into a secondary matter with no priority, such as… the division of Sudan.”

[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Jan. 4, 2011]

But, then, much as secular proponents of the end of Israel make common cause with the anti-Semitic terrorist organization Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, in its illiberalism, comfortably aligns itself with actual perpetrators of genocide.

In a letter to President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, who is accused of responsibility for the genocide in Darfur, Abbas expressed his support for the President and stated that the Palestinian people and leadership “have complete faith in the wisdom of President Omar Al-Bashir” and that they “support the unity of the land of Sudan and its people.”

[PA TV (Fatah), Nov. 28, 2010

The PA is at least consistent – consistent in what, we may conclude from the above. And those who make common cause with Hamas for the end of Israel – what are they?


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The Political Animal

A “Rose in the Desert” Smells Like Shit

I mean not to diminish but heighten in significance the state repression and murder currently being executed across Syria by reminding us all of what I had intended to write of at the time, the creepiest, most morally repugnant journalism of the year – Joan Juliet Buck‘s “A Rose in the Desert,” for Vogue, with photography by James Nachtwey. Might Anna Wintour and the other editors of that glossy dross, reeking of ancien regime parfum feel more chastened now to think it, worse, in bad taste? For there were only decades to know of the barbarous tyranny of Syria’s Ba’athist regime, no different from any other party in the Middle East under that banner, with one decade of Syrian interference in Lebanon sufficient to know the nature of Assad junior. Still, for Buck,

Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the couture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment. She’s a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement. Paris Match calls her “the element of light in a country full of shadow zones.” She is the first lady of Syria.


That’s an estimated 340 dead so far in the nationwide protests, you should know.

Said the French Ambassador, according to Buck,

She managed to get people [at the International Diplomatic Institute in Paris] to consider the possibilities of a country that’s modernizing itself, that stands for a tolerant secularism in a powder-keg region, with extremists and radicals pushing in from all sides—and the driving force for that rests largely on the shoulders of one couple. I hope they’ll make the right choices for their country and the region.

But, writes Hisham Melham in Foreign Policy, in addition to both the historical and present reality of Syrian politics and behavior,

the underlying reality is much gloomier: Syria does not have a serious university or research institution, a notable press, hospitals with reliable medical care, or any efficient state agency — save the institutions of repression. Indeed, the ingrained inertia of the current Assad regime, its hollow and brittle institutions, and the very nature of the political system, including its instruments of coercion, prevents it from engaging in serious reform or from delivering on the requirements of regional peace. The regime may well have finally lifted the country’s Emergency Law this week, but that will do little to change the underlying authoritarian realities: Article 8 of the constitution (which establishes the primacy of the Baath party in state and society), the illegality of political parties, and an ongoing media environment of censorship and craven dependence.

In many of these ways, Bashar has simply carried on the authoritarian legacy of his father, Hafez Assad.

Quelle surprise.

Not all is lost, however. We can always treasure, here, Nachtwey giving us the Assads, en vogue with Disney World lighting, at play on the floor with the children and trucks, the modern tyrannical family spending quality time at home. I hope it’s framed above the reception desk at the Vogue offices. After all, one needs to take pride in one’s work.


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The Political Animal


Obama in Egypt, P060409PS-0223
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Among the many approaches to the study of literature are varied considerations of structure, form, and language, including archetypologies, symbologies, and rhetorical and verbal analysis. These differing hermeneutics can be brought to bear on the interpretation of more than just literature, as almost anything can be argued to show intention, in the sense of indications of meaning. This has been a welcome realization among literary scholars over the past half century, for otherwise they might have had to confine their prodigious analytical skills to nothing more interesting and important than imaginative literature and debates about whether Emma Bovary was really a tramp or a trope.

President George W. Bush and Egyptian Presiden...
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Egypt, then, we might claim, in general and in this moment-to-moment crisis, is a text, and a very nearly ideal one in how it opens itself to interpretation. As a political subject to be engaged, let’s say, from the U.S. standpoint, it has offered a perhaps perfect model for the tension of real versus ideal policy. Modern Egypt does not exist, of course, in a historical vacuum, so any American policy all these decades was bound to echo a colonial history in the Middle East in which the U.S. itself played no significant role, but typologies will be recognized and interpreted. Wondering, then, whether an archetype is something essential or, instead, analytically superimposed, a question arises whether political acts – some policy of the French in Africa, lets’ say, given France’s colonial history in Africa – can ever be understood free of, having transcended, historical context. Could a great capitalist power, now the U.S., ever have engaged a non-democratic Egypt through policies not interpretable as controlling and exploitative? Even an ideal policy of non-engagement (including no economic aid) on the basis of a human rights agenda, may be viewed by those inclined, and is, as culturally arrogant. Aggressive opposition to a non-democratic Egypt on the basis of a “freedom agenda” is easily characterizable as imperialistic.

Much as we wonder in Ethics 101 whether an act may be considered altruistic if we experience inner satisfaction at its goodness, could a realistic U.S policy toward Egypt ever have escaped condemnation, as supporting Mubarak’s dictatorial regime, if the U.S. had policy interests in cooperative engagement? Even if we argue against the pressures of American energy policy – oil dependence – that dependence would have been an unavoidable, original factor, not quickly disappearing. Then there is Israel. But only a position clearly adversarial to Israel can argue that U.S. support of Israel is opportunistic. It is, in fact, that rare policy pursued ideally and commendably, and along with oil and, now, opposition to Islamism, constitutes legitimate U.S. interests in the Middle East for which, for three decades, Mubarak’s Egypt provided stability.

Was there ever the prospect of a more democratic and free Egypt that might have played the same role? When?

It is true that the U.S. has often not conducted itself commendably in balancing its own and others’ interests. Iran, Guatemala, and Vietnam are common examples. But they are also fifty and sixty years ago, at the height of Cold War excess. Even Chile is nearly forty years ago.

With the President of Brazil, Lula da Silva, i...
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There are, too, the prospects of what may follow if the people’s revolt against Mubarak is successful, an outcome far from certain as I write. The spirit of democracy, the yearning for freedom has been much and inspiringly on display in the streets of Egypt. One cannot be a democrat and be anything but moved by and committed to it. And The Muslim Brotherhood, the source of so many fears, has not been significantly in evidence in the revolt, but just as I believed that Mubarak himself was playing a kind of ropeadope all week – he came off the ropes in the violence yesterday, which was abetted by the military – the history is very long of cunning, undemocratic revolutionary parties creating and waiting for their opportunity to take control of unstable political situations. It is also true that anti-Semitism is widespread in Egypt, even among those who do not identify as devout Muslims.

Upon all this highly structured text, then, this clear form like a Rorschach that opens itself to us just for this purpose, read the U.S. role, now. Is it conspiratorial author of all? Unreliable narrator of events? Manipulative antagonist behind the wizard’s curtain?

Here is some lunacy on the stupefying far (and anti-Semitic) Left.

Obama’s greenlight to Mubarak brings bloodshed to Egypt

A Western correspondent in Cairo told me that Mubarak goons targeted many reporters and that they also sexually harassed female protesters.  Those goons and criminals are the linchpin of Obama’s Middle East policy. When the book is written about what he did to save Mubarak, it should be titled: it is all for you, o Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

(Just as an aside, one has to truly relish the delicious college-collective PC of the harassment charge. “Yes, there was blood and bodies everywhere – and they sexually harassed people too!” There’s the revolutionary spirit, some True Grit.)

Not to be outdone is the manically insane Right (one wishes one could write “far Right”) from a roundup of Beck, Limbaugh, Coulter, Big Government, Malkin, and Tammy Bruce:

Conservative Media Look At Hosni Mubarak And See Barack Obama

Judson Phillips of the Tea Party Nation cautions that as riots grow in Egypt and debate rages whether Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak can remain in power, American citizens need to be watching closely.

“The lesson we in the Tea Party movement need to be paying attention to is Egypt and the Internet. In response to the crisis, the Egyptian government has cut off almost all Internet access to the country and has disrupted cell phone service. They understand, if the opposition cannot communicate, they cannot be effective.”

The Internet was critical in getting the tea party movement going, connecting concerned citizens through social media such as Facebook, and communicating information about rallies via email and Twitter.

“As conditions in America continue to go from bad to worse and the possibility of new, large demonstrations against the regime loom, do you think Obama would not hesitate to pull the Internet kill switch?” Phillips asks.

Given the status quo ante, the U.S. response always needed to be dependent on the course of the protests. Outright support of either side to begin would have been a mistake, needlessly undermining U.S. interests in one outcome, directly betraying American ideals in the other choice. However, the manner in which we have talked about the situation from the start is instructive. Were these events transpiring in any free and democratic nation – look no farther than the social and political upheaval in the U.S. in the 60s, in the demonstrations and the urban riots – there would be no talk of the government stepping down. Even if the government reacted excessively, as it sometimes did, particularly, in the 20s and 30s, against the Bonus army or against union organizers, there would be no question of legitimate revolution.

That question, that language, has been in the text since this story began, because whatever the realistic policy considerations, the exigencies of political time and place, and even the possible unhappy outcomes, the Mubarak government is illegitimate, and where, in extremis, the U.S. had to come down could never have been in doubt.


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The Political Animal

Thinking about Egypt

We were thinking about it yesterday in more theoretical terms, about what makes a revolution and the act of rebellion legitimate and humane – true to the liberating spirit that animates it – and how revolutions betray themselves. To think about Egypt more practically is to recognize the social factors in Egypt that make the dangers of that betrayal greater than proponents of democracy, and of legitimate American interests, too, might like.

The experts are all over television and published media now. They are the scholars and think tank analysts of the Middle East, the country experts, ex and current diplomats and State Department hands. Their analysis, their presentation of the various factors at play, does not significantly change. There is poverty, youth, desperation, Islam, Israel, the opportunity Mubarak sacrificed over thirty years to lead Egypt into modernity rather than merely, first, commit himself to avoiding Sadat’s fate, and then, like all despots, to accumulating power and wealth. All the analysts undoubtedly have a point of view beyond and emergent from their analysis. For some, the analysis, for the more informed consideration of all of us, is primary. For others, the tendentious point of view, which skews the analysis, should be obvious to all but those already eager to embrace it. Then, of course, there are the countless voices, not inexpert at opining, who are a map of the tendentious.

One facile, obligatory opinion dump was Alex Pareene’s post at Salon: “America’s narcissism taints Egypt coverage.”

America doesn’t really understand how to respond to a revolution. The demonstrations in Egypt have nothing to do with Tea Parties or neoconservatives or Twitter or Facebook or Fox News. But don’t tell Americans!

Pareene’s condescensions careen all over the place, but their one consistent theme is that – as he offers a predictable display of self-involved self-laceration that is all about us – is that it is not all and always about us. Thanks, Alex.

More common, as President Obama walks that “fine line,” that “tightrope,” while sitting on that “fence” of shrewd, minimally-optioned caution or pusillanimous betrayal – of democratic ideals or loyalty to an ally, all depending on your side of the fence – are the condemnations of the President for not quickly and decisively choosing what side he is going to come down on. For now, GOP leaders are expressing support for Obama’s approach. That’s nice. Among the bigger name players, I’m betting on Gingrich to break first. However, lesser incendiary lights have already flashed their partisan glare.

John Bolton and Dick Morris both frame the administration’s cautious response, including expressed understanding for the democratic yearnings of Egyptians, as a careless invitation to a Muslim Brotherhood takeover in Egypt – as if the U.S. could or should attempt to influence events. Here is Morris, always in a race to the bottom of any heap:

In the 1950s, the accusation “who lost China” resonated throughout American politics and led to the defeat of the Democratic Party in the presidential elections of 1952. Unless President Obama reverses field and strongly opposes letting the Muslim brotherhood take over Egypt, he will be hit with the modern equivalent of the 1952 question: Who Lost Egypt?

The Iranian government is waiting for Egypt to fall into its lap. The Muslim Brotherhood, dominated by Iranian Islamic fundamentalism, will doubtless emerge as the winner should the government of Egypt fall. The Obama Administration, in failing to throw its weight against an Islamic takeover, is guilty of the same mistake that led President Carter to fail to support the Shah, opening the door for the Ayatollah Khomeini to take over Iran.

Someone has actually managed to squeeze in below Morris (a notable achievement) by working the same incipient meme even more crudely and tendentiously. Daniel Greenfield, at the enticingly titled if overcooked Sultan Knish blog, offers this objective analysis:

Obama Loses the Middle East

It’s no coincidence that major revolutions against Western backed governments have occurred under weak American presidents. The Iranian revolution against the Shah happened on Jimmy Carter’s watch. The current violence in Tunisia and Egypt is taking place under Obama. And the timing is quite interesting. Revolts which coincided with a new opposition congress almost suggest that they were scheduled for a time when Obama would be at his politically weakest.

Additionally the 2010 defeats would have indicated to the Iranian regime that they might only have a 2 year window in which to act before Obama is replaced by an unknown, but probably more conservative politician. A “Now or Never” moment. The Iranian Revolution might never have happened under Reagan. But Carter’s weakness, left wing politics and contempt for the very notion of defending American interests made it possible. Similarly despite attempts by some Bush advisers to take credit for Tunisia and Egypt, it is unlikely that they would have taken place on Bush’s watch. Not because the Bush administration was so omnipotent, but because it had regional credibility. The general perception was that the Bush Administration was on alert and supportive of allies. That is not at all the regional perception of the Obama Administration which doesn’t seem to know what an ally is.

Obama’s mistreatment of the UK, Israel and Honduras, the alienation of Karzai and continuing humiliation at the hands of China and Russia through diplomatic insults, showed weakness and stupidity. The Iranian takeover of the region is premised on that incompetence. Lebanon was a test. The next step was Tunisia. Then Egypt.

I will not consider any of this nonsense except to point out the fundamental disqualifying contradiction at the core of it: it was the G.W. Bush administration, in fact, not the Obama, that threatened as part of its “freedom agenda” to tie and cut off military aid to Egypt in relation to human and political rights, a subject of no interest to Morris and the Knish, but of great interest to a different kind of conservative, Elliott Abrams. So apparently it was the Bush administration, not the Obama, that was willing to sacrifice Mubarak and hardnosed U.S. interests in favor of a squishy “rights” agenda.

As we saw from Pareene, the same tendency toward blind bias appears on the Left, too. Last night on Rachel Maddow’s show, Maddow was intent on advancing the longtime, and significantly correct, theme of misguided American support, in advance of other legitimate interests, of anti-democratic regimes. However, in conversation with Martin Indyk, former Clinton administration ambassador to Israel, who believes that Mubarak should go, Maddow found Indyk not as single minded as she might have hoped, when he challenged her use of the term “propped up” regarding U.S. relations with the Mubarak regime. Mubarak did not need U.S. support to remain in power, and keeping him in power in opposition to better alternatives was never U.S. policy. But “propped up” certainly advances that slippery suggestion, and you could see Maddow’s disappointment when Indyk took issue with it. (You can learn about the details of U.S. aid to Egypt from ProPublica, here.)

Even normally clear-eyed observers and analysts of the Middle East can be led astray by their biases. Barry Rubin, of the Gloria Center, an essential analyst to read for insights particularly on Israel, is nonetheless not an Obama supporter. So on the same day that he wrote this at the Center website:

There is no good policy for the United States regarding the uprising in Egypt but the Obama Administration may be adopting something close to the worst option. This is its first real international crisis. And it seems to be adopting a policy that, while somewhat balanced, is pushing the Egyptian regime out of power,

he wrote this at his blog

While the Obama Administration is pushing too hard for my taste and not giving enough public support to the regime–not the Mubaraks personally–its critics seem to be even more wrong.

Would this be “more wrong” as in “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”? Maybe.

In close contention for the most misguided, simplistic judgment on a harrowingly complex foreign policy challenge, one significantly coming out of Israel, but in keeping with the opinions of those like Morris and Greenfield, is that Obama is betraying an ally in not fully supporting Mubarak. As we see, an idealistic “rights” agenda can motivate both Right and Left, though the Left portion would damn the Right side as imperialistic and the Right condemn the Left for toothless naiveté. Lighting my fire and cooking my beans (for the requisite hot air) in a more realistic camp, I am comfortable agreeing with both.

Managing a nation’s path through a frightfully complex and still developing human society requires pragmatic acts and a proper sense of the possible. The U.S. can neither forcefully achieve the liberty of other peoples nor navigate international waters refusing to do business with states that do not offer their people that liberty. However, the notion that dictatorial leaders with whom we have regrettable relationships of necessity should ever think of those relationships as true friendships requiring loyalty beyond expediency is a betrayal of every American and democratic ideal. The terms of these relationships are clear – mutual advantage under limiting circumstances. Leaders such as Mubarak are clear about who they are. The U.S. must always be clear about what it is, a free and pragmatic nation that may work with them as necessity might seem to require it, but never their loyal friend against the liberty of their people.


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The Political Animal

Rebellion and Revolution

With the current events in Egypt following upon the still unfolding story in Tunisia, the nature and potential consequences of revolutionary upheaval are much on people’s minds. For Egypt, as generally for the Middle East, democrats everywhere celebrate the swell of a common spirit of liberty seeking to throw off shackles. Realists, even among democrats, worry, too, knowing the politics and players of the region, about what may yet follow that could betray the initial free and liberating spirit. There is every reason to anticipate – and signs – that Islamist parties of varying levels of extremity will seek to advance their causes amid the flux of events.  So far, with some measure of regrettable death and criminality, the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, unfolding, offer hope in the general spirit and conduct of those nations’ citizens. Much remains to occur and be witnessed.

Thinking of what hangs in the balance in these revolutions, I was reminded of Albert CamusThe Rebel (L’homme révolté). In the 1951 work Camus examined  the rebel’s act in terms of origins and ends. He considered what impels rebellion, the human limits it seeks to throw off and its commitment, in throwing off those limits, to an understanding of the human condition. A recognition of the immorality of oppressively imposing limitations on any of us,  reasoned Camus, imposes limits too on what the rebel may do in claiming his own freedom.

When Camus wrote, it was in the context already of several decades of Marxist utopianism, and of European Left rationalization of that utopianism’s essential excess, before, even, any comprehensive knowledge of the totality of communist crimes, with much still to come. A not dissimilar form of rationalization for ideological and political excess exists at the far reaches of the Left today. It exists, too, in the Islamism that might still play a role in these revolutions being played out before us, with roots in the unreason of doctrinal theology. For the Western Left, Camus might say, the unreason is that which lies at the end of reason, reason that believes it can reach and even enact an absolute.

from Part V: Thought at the Meridian

from “Moderation and Excess”:

[R]ebellion with no other limits but historical expediency signifies unlimited slavery. To escape this fate, the revolutionary mind, if it wants to remain alive, must therefore return again to the sources of rebellion and draw its inspiration from the only system of thought which is faithful to its origins: thought that recognizes limits.

from “Beyond Nihilism”:

There does exist for man, therefore, a way of acting and of thinking which is possible on the level of moderation to which he belongs. Every undertaking that is more ambitious than this proves to be contradictory. The absolute is not attained nor, above all, created through history. Politics is not religion, or if it is, then it is nothing but the Inquisition.

from “Rebellion and Murder”:

It is then possible to say that rebellion, when it develops into destruction, is illogical. Claiming the unity of the human condition, it is a force of life, not of death. Its most profound logic is not the logic of  destruction; it is the logic of creation. Its movement, in order to remain authentic, must never abandon any of the terms of the contradiction that sustains it. It must be faithful to the yes that it contains as well as to the no that nihilistic interpretations isolate in rebellion. The logic of the rebel is to want to serve justice so as not to add to the injustice of the human condition, to insist on plain language so as not to increase the universal falsehood, and to wager, in spite of human misery, for happiness. Nihilistic passion, adding to falsehood and injustice, destroys in its fury its original demands and thus deprives rebellion of its most cogent reasons. It kills in the fond conviction that this world is dedicated to death. The consequence of rebellion, on the contrary, is to refuse to legitimize murder because rebellion, in principle, is a protest against death.

from “Beyond Nihilism”:

Rebellion proves in this way that it is the very movement of life and that it cannot be denied without renouncing life. Its purest outburst, on each occasion, gives birth to existence. Thus it is love and fecundity or it is nothing at all. Revolution without honor, calculated revolution which, in preferring an abstract concept of man to a man of flesh and blood, denies existence as many times as is necessary, puts resentment in the place of love. Immediately rebellion, forgetful of its generous origins, allows itself to be contaminated by resentment; it denies life, dashes toward destruction, and raises up the grimacing cohorts of petty rebels, embryo slaves all of them, who end by offering themselves for sale, today, in all the market-places of Europe, to no matter what form of servitude. It is no longer either revolution or rebellion but rancor, malice, and tyranny. Then, when revolution in the name of power and of history becomes a murderous and immoderate mechanism, a new rebellion is consecrated in the name of moderation and of life.

For all this, Camus was spurned by Sartre and excoriated by much of the French Left.  Time only proved him right, then and now, and in 1957 he won his Nobel Prize for Literature.


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Israel Responds to Time Magazine

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the following response from Ron Dermer, Senior Adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, to the latest of Time Magazine’s increasingly and starkly biased reports on Israel is not how well-reasoned and clearly presented it is. What is most remarkable is how obvious the various counter points are to the distortions of Karl Vick’s article. On Israel, Time begins to read more and more like the Guardian, which is so shamelessly anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic in its coverage that it actually regularly deletes reader comments that challenge its political line. At least Time printed the letter. Better would be to return again to professional reportage.

Dear Mr. Stengel,

I wanted to bring to your attention a recent article in Time entitled “Israel’s Rightward Lurch Scares Some Conservatives.” I hope that you will agree that the article’s obvious bias and numerous distortions are not worthy of the standards of your prestigious magazine.

Israel is depicted in the article as essentially sliding towards fascism. Your correspondent refers to Israel’s Shin Bet (the equivalent of the FBI) as a “secret police,” claims that the Israeli government “increasingly equates dissent with disloyalty,” and accuses the Prime Minister of “taking a page from neighboring authoritarian states.”

The evidence offered for these outrageous allegations includes a preliminary vote in our parliament that would require naturalized citizens to make a pledge of allegiance, a proposal to strip citizenship from Israelis convicted of espionage and terrorism, a motion to investigate foreign government funding of local NGOs, calls on Jews to not rent property to Arabs, and demonstrations demanding prohibitions of Arab boys from dating Jewish girls.

But your correspondent did not find it necessary to inform your readers of a few facts.

Oaths of allegiance are commonplace in most democratic countries, including the United States. Naturalized citizens in America swear an oath to its Constitution and to defend the country against “all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Israel’s proposed pledge would require naturalized citizens to swear an oath to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, words taken directly from our Declaration of Independence.

Moreover, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy are just some of the many countries where citizenship can be stripped for various infractions that are defined as undermining “national interests.” Are these European countries not democratic?

In the United States, Senator Joe Leiberman proposed a bill last year to “add joining a foreign terrorist organization or engaging in or supporting hostilities against the United States or its allies to the list of acts for which United States nationals would lose their nationality.” Is American democracy threatened by such a bill?

As for questioning the legitimacy of foreign government funding of Israeli NGOs, mentioning America’s Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) may have presented a more balanced picture.

FARA requires that any organization engaged in lobbying in the U.S. that receives money from foreign individuals, let alone foreign governments, must among other things register as a foreign agent with the Department of Justice and permit the Attorney General to inspect all of its activities.

It is hard to imagine any democratic country accepting foreign governments intervening in its domestic affairs by funding domestic groups engaged not merely in criticism of a particular government’s policy but also attacking the very foundations of the State.

What would Britain do if the French government was actively funding a British NGO that sought to eliminate the monarchy? What would the United States do if the Iranian government was funding American NGOs pressing for a withdrawal of US forces from the Middle East?

There is a vigorous public debate in Israel, including within the Likud party, over the best means to address the problem of foreign government funding of local NGOs. Proposals range from launching a parliamentary investigation to laws banning or restricting such funding to measures to ensure full transparency. Far from being a sign of Israel’s slide toward fascism, the current debate in Israel is a testament to how vibrant our democracy truly is.

Finally, contrary to the implication of your correspondent, Prime Minister Netanyahu has publicly and forcefully condemned the racist sentiments that were mentioned in the article. For example, this is what the Prime Minister said at the opening of Israel’s annual Bible Quiz to an audience of mostly observant Jews a few hours after he learned of the letter calling on Jews not to rent apartments to Arabs:

There are non-Jews among the citizens of this country. How would we feel if someone said not to sell apartments to Jews? We would have been outraged, and indeed we are outraged when we hear such things in neighboring countries or anywhere else. Such statements should not be made, neither about Jews nor about Arabs. They must not be made in any democratic country, let alone a Jewish-democratic country that respects the moral values of the Jewish heritage and the Bible. Therefore, the State of Israel categorically rejects these things.

Contrast this unequivocal condemnation by the leader of Israel to the Palestinian Authority law that mandates the death penalty for any one who sells land to Jews. Such laws are all too common in a Middle East in which Christians are persecuted, gays are hanged in public squares and women are stoned for adultery.

In Israel, things are different. Here, we protect the rights of women, gays and minorities, including the 20% of Israelis who are Arabs, who enjoy freedom of speech and religion and the protections afforded by independent courts and the rule of law.

Every decision in Israel is put under the microscope by one of world’s largest foreign press contingents, the hundreds of human rights organizations and NGOs that operate freely here, a famously adversarial local press and most critically, by a vociferous parliamentary opposition.

Israel has upheld its democratic values despite being threatened like no country on earth. In defending itself against wars of aggression, unparalleled terror campaigns and continuous promises to annihilate it, Israel has a track record on the protection of rights that would compare favorably to the record of any democracy, much less democracies under threat.

Even in peacetime, other democracies enact laws that would be inconceivable in Israel. The Swiss ban on minarets and the French restrictions on headscarves passed in Europe, not Israel.

One final point regarding media coverage in the Middle East. In 2000, after an Italian television station (RAI) was threatened by the Palestinian Authority for broadcasting the film of a Palestinian mob lynching two Israeli soldiers, RAI issued a shameful apology. Similarly, in 2003, CNN admitted to burying negative coverage about Sadaam’s regime so that its personnel could continue working safely in Baghdad.

I can assure you that no matter how biased and unbalanced your correspondents’ coverage of Israel, they will always be free here to write whatever they want. Of course, Time is also free not to print it.

Ron Dermer
Senior Advisor to the Prime Minister

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Ship of Fools 1

One of the questions of the Normblog profile, of which I was the subject a little while back is

What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world?

I responded like a blogger.

The excesses of the international Left that are in part responsive to the American Right; the excesses of the American Right that are in part responsive to the international Left.

In contrast, New England blogger and graphic designer Sissy Willis responded like a writer.

Human nature.

Norm could reasonably now retire the question. There will be no better answer to it. Though, of course, the purpose of the question is to illumine the nature of the blogger, and not the world, and future profilees in their answers will further detail the myriad means by which human beings muck up creation.

For instance, this week while I was off-blog, Haaretz reported on the results of a poll conducted on behalf of the Spanish government by the Anti-Defamation League and the Pew Research Center. (H/T Jeffrey Goldberg)

The study follows poll results from 2008 and 2009 conducted by the Anti-Defamation League and the Pew Research Center showing that close to half of all Spaniards at the time held anti-Semitic views. The two polls designated Spain an anti-Semitic country after finding that more than 35 percent of its citizens held anti-Jewish views. Ironically, however, in the most recent poll, 34.6 percent of respondents expressed anti-Semitic views, thereby barely escaping the anti-Semitic label according to that criterion. At an event at which the new findings were released, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos said the poll showed Spanish society is not anti-Semitic or anti-Israel.

That’s some regrettable human nature right there. But it gets better.

Anti-Semitic sentiment exists in Spain despite the absence of a sizable Jewish community in the country since the Spanish Inquisition at the end of the 15th century. Some 40,000 Jews currently live in the county of 40 million.

It gets better still, with this analysis of “paternal lineages of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula” from the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Admixture analysis based on binary and Y-STR haplotypes indicates a high mean proportion of …Sephardic Jewish (19.8%) sources. Despite alternative possible sources for lineages ascribed a Sephardic Jewish origin, these proportions attest to a high level of religious conversion (whether voluntary or enforced), driven by historical episodes of social and religious intolerance, that ultimately led to the integration of descendants.

To put a fine point on it, one third of Spaniards do not much like Jews; one fifth of Spaniards genetically are Jews. I suppose if they had only known who they really are, they might have loved themselves better. Or do you think if we drew a Venn diagram there would be no overlap in the classes. Insufficient data.

The poll follows upon the statement last week of Karel De Gucht, European Commissioner for Trade and former Belgian foreign minister, which I commented on here, that

There is indeed a belief – it’s difficult to describe it otherwise – among most Jews that they are right. And a belief is something that’s difficult to counter with rational arguments. And it’s not so much whether these are religious Jews or not. Lay Jews also share the same belief that they are right. So it is not easy to have, even with moderate Jews, a rational discussion about what is actually happening in the Middle East.”

De Gucht, as is usually the case with public officials who have spoken the ugly truth they really believe, has since offered the kind of apology that blames the audience.

De Gucht expressed regret about the way his remarks were interpreted, saying he did not mean to offend Jews.

“I regret that the comments that I made have been interpreted in a sense that I did not intend,” he said in a statement.

What he really meant to say was that Jews are rational and irrational just like all other people, that they are at times convinced of the rightness of their beliefs, just as are other people, and that at times they may turn out to be wrong and at other times, amazingly, right in their convictions. The problem was the audience. It did not interpret him correctly. Go back and read his original words. See how wrong you got it?

De Gucht’s comments came not long after the head of Amnesty International Finland, Frank Johansson, called Israel, alone among all nations of the world, a “scum state.” Unlike De Gucht, there was no mealy-mouthed backtracking for Johansson.

Asked whether there are other countries aside from Israel that, according to him, meet the definition of a “scum state,” Johansson did not specify any, but noted that there are “Russian officials” who meet the criteria.

Corrupt Russian officials. The cure for the Jew’s existential loneliness.

Johansson did attempt one sleight of imprimatur, offering that he blogs – his blog, “which appears on the Web site of Finland’s third largest newspaper Iltaleht,” being the source of his comments – as a private individual and not in his official capacity for AI. Cute, no? Not, of course, that such is any kind of meaningful escape hatch for AI, but

Iltalehti’s Web site clearly provides readers with his title as “director of the Finnish branch of Amnesty International,” which appears above his blog.

Surely, then, AI, hallowed in humanistic tradition and aspiration, acted persuasively in disassociating itself from the advocate of such belief.

[A] spokeswoman for Amnesty International’s headquarters in London, Susanna Flood, told the Post in a telephone interview that “Amnesty would never use an expression like this toward the State of Israel, or any other state.”

Flood said that Johansson used the phrase “creep state” to describe Israel, rather than “scum,” as the initial English translation of the Finnish word found. Native Finnish speakers from Tundra Tabloids said the Finnish term used by Johansson to denigrate Israel is a “highly derogatory term,” and is frequently translated as “scum,” “scum bag” or “douche bag.”

A pro forma rejection of the comment followed by an attempt to partially exonerate Johansson based on mistranslation. (Because “creep” state would be so much better.) We needn’t ask, or shouldn’t need to, what it is that AI stands for – the holding accountable of governments and political actors for their actions. Way to hold accountable AI! Finally, over two weeks later, no doubt under pressure from the main office in London, Johansson issued this heartfelt apology, under, you should note, Amnesty International Finland letterhead, for the guy who was being anti-Semitic purely in his personal, not official, capacity, and now getting all weaselly, in the De Gucht tradition, by stating that he had referred to Israel in “colloquial” terms that he “very quickly realized, were hugely offensive.” One can understand how “scum” state might not be immediately apparent as offensive, and you know how often you call someone who hasn’t just peed on you scum. Johansson continues as head of AI Finland.

What is transpiring at AI is a subject I and plenty of others have written about many times – on the Right gleefully and on the Left, as with me, with great sorrow. That’s one related phenomenon to the one that is my focus today, the European one. AI, founded in England, headquartered in London, is significantly influenced by European, and European Left, perspectives and culture, which have their lesser counterpart elsewhere and in the U.S. These items today are just some very recent examples of a widespread condition, quite noticeably so in England, too. That anti-Semitism could be so profoundly present in European culture, that members of the political class and of even human rights NGO leadership could be so expressive of it, and so deaf, so dumb, to the appropriate level of recognition and reaction to it only six decades and some after the Holocaust that shaped the world in which Europeans live – well, it would be an astonishment to the soul were it not for that human nature and our knowledge of it.

The evidence has been before us for some time that what the European political and social cultures think was to be learned from the two world wars, which were the culmination of centuries of warfare and colonial conquest while struggling toward humanistic conceptions, is that believing in anything too fervidly – a religious faith, a cultural or social ideal – is the source of all conflict. Even the enlightened humanistic ideals that form the ground of an emerging international legal superstructure, which became the substitute for anything too uncomfortably locally, culturally based – even those ideals are another God that might fail if it means insisting on their truth too strenuously before the fervent dissent of anti-humanistic forces, or doing anything more than playing at fighting for something, in Kosovo or Afghanistan, for instance, behind the back of the United States.

Meanwhile the same, old ugly human passions and prejudices persist all dressed up in finer garb – it’s not the Jews; it’s Israel. (Well, actually, for many Spanish and De Gucht it is, frankly, the Jews.) And the European world, in its social welfare comfort, believes it has elevated itself to some higher plane of human organization, because it turns out it was the Second World War that was the war to end all wars. At least for them. At least for now.

Scum states live in a different world.


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Counter Thinking in the Israeli Palestinian Conflict

In the contemporary field of education, few concepts are more heavily promoted than that of what is called critical thinking. Very simply, thinking that analyzes itself, that habitually questions suppositions and established intellectual foundations –  the warrants on which we base our claims about the world – is critical thinking. Revisionist histories arise from critical thinking. Much of literary studies for going on fifty years has been directed at reading against the grain: dehistoricizing, rehistoricizing, deconstructing.  The whole hermeneutic endeavor is to dig out, even create, from below the surface and between the cracks, and in a new dynamic interplay of elements, the hidden meanings beneath the obvious (and therefore misleading) surface. Common sense? Obvious? Common, indeed. Too obvious.

Cleverness – true and deep, as well as superficial and showy – is prized. How can I see things differently from others? How can I reveal the obscure truth to them? Conspiracy theorists, scholars, think tankers, journalists, personal coaches and seers, Tony Robbins, writers of all kinds. It seems a billion people try to make a living or a name doing this. With the advent of blogging, make that two billion. (My hand is raised.)

As I say, though, some of this cleverness is true and deep, some not so. Everywhere – you never know where or when – the subtle thought slips into the sophistical and the misleading casuistry. An example of this kind of approach in political history is to focus, in the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, for instance, on American anticipation of the power struggle with the Soviet Union, and the impending Soviet declaration of war on Japan, rather than on the Japanese refusal to surrender and the projected carnage to come in an invasion of Japan. The clever counter thinker tells us that, since all policy-making is self-interested and cynical, the U.S. bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki not to end the war quickly and spare hundreds of thousands of American lives, but to make a show to the Soviets.

In the political history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we get counter thinkers like Robert Malley. Malley is one of those who have offered a revisionist take on the 2000 Camp David peace talks, in which he participated. Rather than Arafat, who, committing himself to nothing, rejected an offer in which Ehud Barak conceded so much, and that Bill Clinton endorsed, Malley blames Clinton for negotiating poorly, Barak for making offers Arafat could not accept. (So far, we have no basis to believe that the Palestinian side will accept anything other than nearly everything – not so with Israel.)

What happens with this kind of counter thinking is that the world gets turned upside down. The subtle drops off the cliff into the preposterous, yet there are always those at the bottom waiting to catch it. The latest example? By Malley himself and Hussein Agha, from the September 3 Guardian. My analysis of its absurdities – preparing the way to justify another Palestinian refusal to come to terms – follows below.

The skewed Middle East peace talks

Whether there’s a deal or not, the Palestinians can’t really win, while the Israelis have little to lose

Well, you can’t say the head and sub-head are hiding their purpose. But they embed an argument that reappears and that I’ll return to.

Israelis and Palestinians who have started peace negotiations in Washington are separated by much more than the gulf between their substantive positions. Staggering asymmetries between the two sides could seriously imperil the talks.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is the head of a stable state with the ability to deliver on his commitments. Celebrations of supposed institution-building notwithstanding, Palestinians have no robust central authority. Their territory is divided between the West Bank and Gaza. On their own, Palestinians would find it difficult to implement an agreement, however much they might wish to. Israel controls all material assets; Palestinians at best can offer intangible declarations and promises.

Consider the implications of this. The authors are setting the foundation for an argument that delegitimizes the negotiations, and any outcome – treaty or no treaty – that follows, based on “skewed” conditions, “asymmetries.” Translation: Israel is, in fact, a successful, functioning democratic state while the Palestinian Authority has no such. (This ignores the truth that the PA is actually functioning in many respects with increasing success and authority on the West Bank.) Israel’s success and Palestinian dysfunction are unfair. Give me back my ball; I’m going home.

Netanyahu operates within a domestic consensus. On issue after issue – acceptance of a two-state solution, insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, rejection of a full settlement freeze including Jerusalem, refusal of preconditions for negotiations – his stances resonate with the Israeli people. Neither the right, from which he comes, nor the left, whose peace aspirations he is pursuing, denies him the mandate to negotiate. Netanyahu is heading on his own terms to negotiations he has demanded for 20 months; Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is being dragged there without any of his preconditions having been met.

Translation: Israel is an integral society. Palestinian society thus far is not. This somehow (start with the headline, follow with the tone and the clear direction in which the argument is headed) is mark against Israel. “Netanyahu is heading on his own terms to negotiations he has demanded for 20 months.” One can only not laugh if one does not recall that Netanyahu’s “terms” were no terms – no preconditions, which is always the open, non-prejudicial approach to negotiations. Abbas, in contrast, is to receive our sympathy, because his preconditions were not met. What were his preconditions? That there even be preconditions. And he is being “dragged” into negotiations. Israel willingly seeks unconditional direct negotiations, the Palestinians for 20 months reject them – and this is a mark against Israel.

The Palestinian leadership has never been more vulnerable. Participation in talks was opposed by virtually every Palestinian political organisation apart from Fatah, whose support was lethargic. Abbas’s decision to come to Washington is viewed sceptically even by those who back him. Netanyahu’s is supported even by those who oppose him.

One is nearly speechless. (But, of course, not.) This whole focus on Israeli strength – political and social, not simply military – as a subversive element to negotiation is relatively new. I last encountered this argument when debating George Clifford at Ethical Musings, on which I reported in “Framing Israel.” Clifford argued at one point: “Negotiation implies equality. Israel refuses to negotiate with the Palestinians as equal.” Leaving aside whether that second statement is factually true – from where did Clifford get such an idea, that negotiation implies equality? Does he mean that in civil law suits, when the two parties negotiate a deal, they both have, or should or must have, equal footing? We know this is not so. When defendants plea bargain with district or U.S. attorneys – a negotiation – are they equal? Why does one company in merger negotiations retain its name and CEO in the merged company – because the two companies were equal? What a preposterous notion, yet among those who play-talk as advocates of peace, but who really pursue a terribly misguided, peace destroying Palestinian advocacy, this is a new argumentative tactic: the negotiations are unfair because the Israeli polity is stronger, more united, and actually wants to negotiate an end to the conflict, while the PA comes to the negotiating table with none of those attributes. The Palestinians and their Arab “friends” lost the war they started in 1948 (should Israel offer a do over?), frittered away six decades playing the cards of abject victimhood  and preening as Third Word revolutionary freedom fighters, instead of building a society (look always in comparison at the Iraqi Kurds), and still are not clearly committed to contending with reality – and their advocates want to proclaim that this weakness is unfair.

Palestinian views are well known. There is little to no distinction between their public, opening and final positions. Yet no one truly knows the Israeli stance. Netanyahu can start with maximalist positions and then climb down, exuding flexibility next to what inevitably will be couched as Palestinian obstinacy. Palestinians are likely to be frustrated, the atmosphere poisoned, and American bridging proposals – likely falling somewhere between Palestinian bottom lines and Israel’s negotiating posture – risk being skewed.

One must get this, truly. “Palestinian views are well known. There is little to no distinction between their public, opening and final positions.” Translation: the Palestinians – the poor, weak Palestinians – won’t make concessions. They won’t negotiate. “Netanyahu can start with maximalist positions and then climb down.” In other words, Israel will negotiate, will make concessions from what it would like if its position were really so powerful that it could have it all its own way. The Israelis will be “exuding flexibility next to what inevitably will be couched as Palestinian obstinacy.” But that is exactly what the authors just told us the circumstances actually will be!

Palestinian negotiators have logged countless hours on final status questions since the 1990s. The reverse is true on the Israeli side. From Netanyahu down, only one leading figure has seriously tackled permanent status issues, and it is unclear what role defence minister Ehud Barak may play. This disparity should favour the Palestinians – the experienced trumps the novice. But they will also be prisoners of their well-worn outlook, whereas the Israelis will be free to introduce new ideas. Yet again, Palestinians will confront the maddening task of beginning from scratch a process they have undergone on multiple occasions.

Let’s see if we can get this straight. The Palestinians will be the more experienced negotiators, but this is bad because they will be “prisoners” of their own “well-worn outlook, whereas the Israelis will be free to introduce new ideas.” This is to say the Palestinians will not budge off the square they have inhabited for so long with such great results, while the Israelis will think creatively to pursue solutions. Dastardly villains!

Neither Israel’s mounting isolation nor its reliance on US assistance has jeopardised its ability to make autonomous choices, whereas the Palestinian leadership’s decision-making capacity has shrivelled. Most recent Palestinian decisions have been made in accordance with international demands, against the leadership’s instinctive desires and in clear opposition to popular aspirations. Despite such deference, Palestinian leaders cannot count on international support. They feel betrayed by Arab allies and let down by Washington. In contrast, Israel has defied the Obama administration without endangering close ties to Washington. Palestinians will have to take into account the views of Arab and Muslim states; Israel can negotiate by and for itself, without reference to an outside party.

What happens should negotiations fail? The status quo, though sub-optimal, presents no imminent danger to Israel. What Israelis want from an agreement is something they have learned either to live without (Palestinian recognition) or to provide for themselves (security). The demographic threat many invoke as a reason to act – the possibility that Arabs soon might outnumber Jews, forcing Israel to choose between remaining Jewish or democratic – is exaggerated. Israel already has separated itself from Gaza. In the future, it could unilaterally relinquish areas of the West Bank, further diminishing prospects of an eventual Arab majority. Because Israelis have a suitable alternative, they lack a sense of urgency. The Palestinians, by contrast, have limited options and desperately need an agreement.

The Palestinians “desperately need an agreement,” yet the authors have spent an essay telling us why they will not make one and how unfair that is. One reason that negotiations may bear some kind of fruit is that one of the parties, in that weaker position, is desperate for a resolution that, far from that party’s ideal, will offer conditions better than those it faces without the agreement. Most people make the agreement. That the Palestinians for sixty years have not is a study in political pathology.

In any event, Abbas will return to a fractured, fractious society. If he reaches a deal, many will ask in whose name he was bartering away Palestinian rights. If negotiations fail, most will accuse him of once more having been duped. If Netanyahu comes back with an accord, he will be hailed as a historic leader. His constituency will largely fall in line; the left will have no choice but to salute. If the talks collapse, his followers will thank him for standing firm while his critics are likely in due course to blame the Palestinians. Abbas will be damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Netanyahu will thrive if he does and survive if he doesn’t. One loses even if he wins, the other wins even if he loses. There is no greater asymmetry than that.

The authors have described over these final three paragraphs the essential conditions of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, varied facets of Israeli social and political strength and Palestinian weakness, almost all of the latter, in fact, fairly represented as manifestations of Palestinian and Arab disunity and intransigence. Yes, we know, these emerge from the driving animus against Israel and Jews, but animosity is what fuels, if not what guides, all conflict. It is what peace negotiations, in strength or in weakness, must always overcome. Supposed sympathizers who shape arguments to further rationalize failure are not forces for peace, and as we see here, quite transparently, they don’t make very good arguments either.



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All Israel, All the Time

Sometimes it can seem that way. All from The Guardian.


Iran‘s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, today launched an angry attack on “doomed” US-brokered Middle East peace talks and urged the Palestinians to continue armed resistance to Israel.

Ahmadinejad used the annual al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day rally in Tehran to scorn the Obama administration’s efforts in launching the first Arab-Israeli negotiations in nearly two years.

“What do they want to negotiate about? Who are they representing? What are they going to talk about?” the hardline Iranian leader said of the Palestinian negotiating team in Washington.

“Who gave them the right to sell a piece of Palestinian land? The people of Palestine and the people of the region will not allow them to sell even an inch of Palestinian soil to the enemy. The negotiations are stillborn and doomed.”…

“The fate of Palestine is determined in Palestine and through the resistance of the Palestinian people, rather than in Washington, Paris and London,” Ahmadinejad said in his live TV broadcast.

Give that man an atomic bomb.


Militant groups in the Gaza Strip said last night they had joined forces to step up attacks against Israel, possibly including suicide bombings.

The statement was made as Israeli and Palestinian leaders met in Washington for the first day of direct talks yesterday, and agreed that a peace deal could be achieved within a year….

A spokesman for the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said 13 militant groups would work together to launch “more effective attacks” against Israel. Asked if this included suicide bombings, he said: “All options are open.”

Hamas has claimed responsibility for two separate shooting attacks in the West Bank this week that killed four Israeli settlers and wounded two.

Several armed gunmen held an open-air news conference in Gaza where Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, vowed that militants would “respond to the negotiations that aim at selling out (Palestinian) land”.

Very hard to understand why Israel won’t open the Gaza border. Can’t make any sense of it.


Karel De Gucht, the European commissioner for trade, and a former Belgian foreign minister, sparked outrage after voicing his scepticism about the prospects for the negotiations which opened in the US this week. He told a Belgian radio station that most Jews always believed they were right, and questioned the point of talking to them about the Middle East.

De Gucht, who negotiates for Europe on trade with the rest of the world, and is one of the most powerful officials in Brussels, was forced today to issue a statement declaring that the views he expressed were personal.

“Don’t underestimate the opinion … of the average Jew outside Israel,” he told the radio station. “There is indeed a belief – it’s difficult to describe it otherwise – among most Jews that they are right. And a belief is something that’s difficult to counter with rational arguments. And it’s not so much whether these are religious Jews or not. Lay Jews also share the same belief that they are right. So it is not easy to have, even with moderate Jews, a rational discussion about what is actually happening in the Middle East.”

De Gucht presumably prefers the kind of rational discussion to be had with the members of the thirteen groups of the previous story. They have this belief – “it’s difficult to describe it otherwise” – that they are right.

Former Belgian foreign minister. European Union minister for trade. Not just any lout on the street.  Think this is the first time he’s ever spoken like this?  To friends? Family? Colleagues? What do you think he might have been doing in, say, 1940?

(h/t Yaacov Lazowick)


An Israeli soldier has been charged with looting the lead ship in a Gaza aid flotilla attacked by Israeli naval commandos at the end of May.

Now, you see, I’m guessing that the honorable Karel De Gucht would find in this report a story of what is wrong with Israel. Ah, but that would be, wouldn’t you agree, a matter of perspective?

Perspective – now, that’s what fifth is all about , but I’ve saved the best for later.



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TULIP: Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine

Founding statement

The solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is clear – and has been accepted in principle by both sides.  Israeli and Palestinian states living side by side, within secure and recognised borders, is the only workable solution to a conflict that has dragged on for decades.

Israel has already taken a number of steps towards this goal, most notably by agreeing to the Oslo Accords in 1993 and later by the unilateral withdrawal of all Israeli forces from Lebanon and Gaza.  Palestinian moderates lead by Mahmoud Abbas support this process.

People of goodwill everywhere want a process to succeed delivering peace, justice and reconciliation.   Trade unions can play a positive role here, and often do.

The International Transport Workers Federation, for example, has done much to bridge the gap between transport workers unions in Israel and Palestine and to reach ground-breaking agreements.  The International Trade Union Confederation has encouraged dialogue between the Israeli and Palestinian national trade union centres.  And individual unions in a number of countries have invited Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists to their conferences, helping to promote discussion and agreement.

This is the traditional role of trade unions when faced with disputes of this kind – bridging the gap between nations at war, encouraging peace, justice and reconciliation.  It is a role we can be proud of.

And yet in recent years, a number of national unions and trade union centres have changed course and abandoned that role.  Instead, they have rallied behind those Palestinians who are opposed to the peace process.  Some have gone so far as to deny Israel’s right to exist.

A number of those unions have called for boycotts and sanctions directed against Israel, and only against Israel.  They are attempting to demonise the Jewish state, to deny it legitimacy, and to whip up hatred against it.  Sometimes that hatred even spills over into anti-Semitism.

Those unions are wrong – terribly wrong.

Read more…


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