Archive for July, 2007

The JNF and the Reform Movement

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

On July 8, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) wrote about the perceived tension between Zionism and democracy:

Zionism’s purpose was to create a society that is “normal” socially and politically, but not ethically or religiously. More specifically, the Zionist founders were always clear that the Jewish state exists to promote the religion, civilization, and culture of the Jewish people and its dominant Jewish majority.

Does this mean that Israel’s Arab citizens must suffer certain disabilities? It does. They are a minority, and there is a price to be paid for minority status. Jews have paid that price for the last 2000 years, and nearly half of the Jewish people continue to pay it today….

But – and this is critical – Jews as a minority have always demanded that their host countries grant them full civil and political rights. The Jewish state, therefore, must do no less for its minority citizens. Yes, Israel’s majority culture should be aggressively Jewish, but there is no excuse for discrimination against individual Arab citizens in housing, employment, or education, and neither can discrimination in public funding for Arab municipalities be tolerated. — Eric Yoffie, Reform Reflections

Yoffie agrees with me in supporting the Jewish character of the state — the Jewish majority, its symbols, and — I presume — the Zionist goal of settling the Land (although he would probably qualify this by saying that this refers to the pre-1967 Land, perhaps with some minor adjustments).

Importantly, he does seem to be clear about the difference between civil rights and national aspirations. Arabs who live in Israel have the first, but must understand, as the Jews did for 2000 years, that they must look elsewhere for the second.

But he seems to be taking an antithetical position today:

America’s largest Jewish denomination is issuing calls for the Israeli Knesset to reverse course on a controversial piece of legislation declaring that Jewish National Fund lands can be leased only to Jews.

The legislation, introduced by three Israeli Knesset members, passed last week in a vote of 64-16 in its first reading. In order for the bill, which would bar JNF lands from falling into Arab hands, to officially become law, it needs to come before the Knesset two more times.

This week, the Reform Movement joined a growing chorus of calls from left-wing Jewish groups roundly condemning the bill as racist and undemocratic.

“It’s very hard to imagine any circumstance where a Jewish minority in any Diaspora country would accept with equanimity a bill that would forbid Jews from purchasing land,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. “Therefore it is essential that when the Jewish majority in Israel exercises power, it extend to others the rights it always demanded for itself when we were in the minority.” — Forward

On the face of it, this sounds highly undemocratic. How can you deny someone the right to purchase land on the grounds of ethnicity? Doesn’t this fall under the heading of civil rights?

Not exactly.

The JNF was founded in 1901 long before the state of Israel. Its function was to purchase land in Ottoman-controlled Palestine that would eventually become part of a Jewish state. The resolution passed in the Fifth Zionist Congress establishing the fund said that “the fund shall be the property of the Jewish people as a whole”.

Jews around the world contributed to the JNF. My grandmother maintained a tin box in our kitchen, a pushke, into which extra change (and there wasn’t much in the 1940’s) was put — “for the Jews”, she said.

So the contents of this fund doesn’t belong to the state of Israel; it belongs to the Jewish people worldwide, who contributed to it on the grounds that it would help create a Jewish state, by making it possible for Jews to acquire land.

In 1962, however, the JNF made an agreement to allow the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) — part of the government of Israel — to manage JNF lands. And this led to demands that they be made available to any citizen of Israel, Jewish or not. And the bill that Rabbi Yoffie, et al, oppose is an attempt to prevent the abrogation of the understanding between the JNF and the generations of Zionists, like my grandmother, who gave money with the understanding that it would be used to create and develop a Jewish National Home.

The Reform leadership is not unaware of this history (they had grandmothers too). But here’s what Rabbi Andrew Davids, executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) is reported as saying (if anyone can provide a more complete reference, I would be grateful):

“This is not the time for Israel to be looking at policies that differentiate between different cohorts of its citizenry.”

Though the JNF was entrusted with bringing a Jewish state into being, some institutions need to be “reevaluated,” said Davids.

“What we are seeing is the maturation of an Israeli democratic society, and some institutions need to be reevaluated with regards to the current demographics. Israel will never be a state exclusively for Jews,” he said.

I find this profoundly troubling, especially as it comes from a ‘Zionist’. Davids simply ‘reevaluates’ out of existence the very essence of the JNF, as it has historically been defined, and deliberately blurs the distinction between “a Jewish state”, which the proposed law supports, and “a state exclusively for Jews”, which the law does not in any way promote.

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Harry Potter and the prisoner of political correctness

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

By Barry Rubin

News item: The Iranian establishment daily Kayhan, July 26, 2007, criticized officials there for allowing the sale of the new Harry Potter book, claiming the series is a Zionist project in order to disrupt the minds of young people. — MEMRI

From the text:

“The main thing is to try and convince as many people as possible that You-Know-Who came back, Harry….[Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge] is absolutely refusing to believe it’s happened.”

“But why?” said Harry desperately. “Why’s he being so stupid?”…

“Because accepting that Voldemort’s back would mean trouble….”

“It’s hard to convince people he’s back, especially as they really don’t want to believe it in the first place.”

–Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, pp. 93-94.

Harry Potter was angry. He had been used to all the abuse and criticism, the danger and adventure, the fear that Lord Voldemort would return and turn the world into a living hell for wizard and Muggle alike. But why were people who should have defended their civilization pretending that nothing was happening or even becoming apologists for the other side.

There it was, the lead story in the Daily Prophet newspaper:

“Minister Fudge Urges Engagement; Accuses Harry Potter of Voldemortphobia”

“What’s going on here,” Harry said angrily. “I personally saw Voldemort gathering his followers but when I read the Daily Prophet it would seem there is no real threat. And now they want to negotiate with Voldemort?”

“That’s not all,” Hermione explained. “The newspaper is trying to make you sound deluded for exposing the truth.”

“Yes,” Ron added, ”and there are a lot of people now who favor giving aid to Voldemort in order—they claim–to moderate him.”

Certainly, the MSMM (Mainstream Magical Media), had long been blind to the return of Voldemort and his Death Eater movement. The Order of the Phoenix, the group formed to fight Voldemort, had a lot of blogs but the followers of You-Know-Who seemed to control all too many of the biggest institutions. Even on the Internet, Draco Malfoy had even developed one of the most popular blogs of all, “The Daily Draco” and some of the blander naïf’s from one of Hogwarts’ houses had created the “Hufflepuff Post.”

Harry just didn’t understand. How could anyone not see the terrible things going on around the world: the suicide bombing attacks; the organized incitement of hatred, the attempt by an extremist movement to take over and enslave millions of people? Why were they constantly attacking the victims and ridiculing those trying to expose these dangers, distorting their words and slandering their characters?

Even Hogwarts could no longer be counted on to fight the threat. The school had been taken over by teachers who brainwashed students into thinking that the Voldemort movement was all the fault of Dumbledore and others trying to fight it. The Death Eaters’ deeds were simply being exaggerated, said the professors. They had grievances, after all, and if only these were addressed and understood, there wouldn’t be any conflict. And hadn’t all wizards committed crimes in the past? Let him who was without sin cast the first spell. This was certainly the line taken by the Magical Events Studies Association, the organization of those who held such views, producing studies like, “Dementors: Legitimate Resistance As A Response to Oppression.”

Nothing could be taken for granted. No matter what the other side did there was always some excuse made to rationalize it. With Voldemort working to develop extreme new magical weapons and threatening to wipe the Muggles off the face of the earth, there were those who explained that his statements were being taken out of context. He was merely expressing the hope that they would come to see the error of their ways and peacefully commit suicide.

Moreover, despite Dumbledore’s efforts to block aid or negotiations with Voldemort, delegations were constantly traveling to his headquarters, posing with him in photo opportunities. He was really quite nice in person, visitors explained. And he really does want peace. After all, he said so and why would Lord Voldemort tell a lie?

But of course, as popular as the Harry Potter series has been it is still just a set of novels about a fantasy situation. Thank goodness nothing like this could happen in the real world.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs, and author of the recently published The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan).

Bolstering proceeds apace

Friday, July 27th, 2007

YNet reports:

Three Jordanian trucks loaded with Kalashnikov rifles arrived Friday afternoon at the Muqataa compound in Ramallah, a Palestinian security source told Ynet…

On Thursday, Ynet reported that four Jordanian trucks had arrived at the Palestinian Authority [PA], containing more than 3,000 rifles. According to the security source, six additional trucks were expected to arrive in the coming days.

An Israeli military source on Thursday confirmed the report on the arrival of trucks carrying rifles to the PA, saying that the weapons were part of the plan to bolster the Palestinian security organizations

The source could not say where the funding for the equipment came from, but mentioned that nine more trucks were expected to arrive in Jericho over the next few days carrying bullet proof vests and additional equipment.

An enormous quantity of arms has flowed into the hands of the PA since the Oslo agreement. It has not improved Israel’s security, since the PA has never seriously tried to arrest and hold terrorists. And of course in many cases, PA security personnel have turned out to hold second (or first) jobs as members of a terrorist militia.

The best that can be hoped is that the ‘security forces’ will use their weapons to arrest some Hamas operatives that are directly challenging them (Tuesday they used them to shoot Hamas-aligned students at an-Najah University, one of whom died today from his wounds). However, it is very doubtful that they will take any action against terrorism directed at Israelis.

It’s not clear who is paying for this, but I presume it represents the implementation of US General Keith Dayton’s project to build up a Fatah army to confront Hamas.

What is impossible for me to believe is that these ‘security’ forces are not already armed to the hilt. Why do they need thousands of rifles?

Abu Abir, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, warned that the arms arriving in the West Bank will find their way to the hands of Palestinian resistance organization, just like they did in the past.

Oh, I get it. Why didn’t I think of that?

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The real logic of America’s Israel policy

Friday, July 27th, 2007

Hint: it’s not determined by the “Jewish lobby”.

American policy toward Israel may seem schizophrenic. One the one hand, we provide enormous amounts of military and other aid; on the other, we often put great pressure on Israel to take actions that are not in her interest.

Ami Isseroff argues that there is, however, a consistent logic to American behavior:

The US adopted [In 1967] a two fold approach to regaining its standing in the Middle East. The first part was to make Israel dependent upon it for arms and diplomatic backing, while at the same time working for a permanent peace settlement and Israeli withdrawal. The “peace settlement” part would be satisfactory to the pro-Israel faction that was generally in charge in the White House, while the Israeli withdrawal part would satisfy the rank and file career diplomats of the State Department, who never had excessive love for Israel or people of the Jewish persuasion.

This policy could be marketed to supporters of Israel as a pro-Israel policy that sought peace, and would, as Kissinger noted even to the Iraqis, oppose the destruction of Israel, while it could be marketed to Arab states and their supporters as US opposition to annexation of Arab territory, and reduction of Israel’s size.

Isseroff has always been a member of the Israeli ‘peace camp’ (and still is). But he adds,

Peace in return for Israeli withdrawal would be a fair bargain, if it is really peace. Unfortunately, we should be well aware that the United States does not possess either the will or the means to guarantee continued peace after Israeli withdrawal, and on the other hand, pressures in the United States are growing to get any kind of settlement and call it “peace.” Anti-Zionists have managed to blame the Iraq war on Israel, and as the Iraq war sours, pressure for the US to divest itself of its obligations to Israel, and its association with the occupation, has grown.

The aftermath of 9-11 and the miscarriage of the Oslo process poses a dilemma for the United States, especially as domestic pressure mounts for a gracious exit from Iraq. The conviction has grown in the US that somehow an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will help to remedy US failures in Iraq, but such an agreement does not appear to be practicable. In the wake of 9-11, the US clearly cannot indulge Islamist extremism. The people in charge in a large part of Palestine as of 2007 are Islamist extremists. But where there is a will there is a way, and if it is deemed necessary to US policy commitments — a euphemism for the flow of oil from the Gulf states — Israel may find itself forced to withdraw in return for a token peace treaty.

And, worse yet:

Acute analysts will note that if Israel ever does return all of the conquered territories, then Israel would be of no further use in American attempts to ingratiate itself with the Arabs. At the same time, America would have very little leverage with the Arabs unless it pressed Israel for further concessions. Without doubt, there are those in the US diplomatic corps who would not be averse to exerting such pressure.

Israeli politicians therefore have to think ahead to what American policy might be two days after the peace treaty is signed, when some Arab states, or Muslim groups, inevitably, nonetheless declare their objections to the presence of Israel in the Middle East. From the Israeli point [of view], we will have no more territory to concede, but that may not necessarily be the American view. After all, in the early 50s, the US was behind a plan to get Israel to make concessions to Egypt in the Negev. [my emphasis]

Americans concerned with our Mideast policy, particularly now as we are thinking about possible presidential candidates, must read Isseroff’s entire article, “Territorial Integrity: American Middle East policy and what it means for Israel“.

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The swing state of the Mideast

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

One can call Turkey the swing state of the Mideast. A nation of Muslims, it is nevertheless a secular, democratic state, a member of NATO, and an applicant for membership in the EU. It’s led by a “moderate Islamist” party (whatever that is), which has just won a smashing electoral victory.

Prof. Barry Rubin is the director of Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center in Herzliya, Israel. His latest book is The Truth about Syria, published by Palgrave-Macmillan in May 2007. We’re very pleased to have his permission to publish this article. More of Rubin’s columns can be read online here.

In Turkey, no one knows what will happen

By Barry Rubin


Answer A: In political terms, the Justice and Development (AK) party which won 47 percent of the votes in Turkey’s July 22 elections and will have almost two-thirds of the parliament seats is a pragmatic, conservative, business-oriented moderate party despite its roots as an Islamic-oriented one.

Answer B: In societal terms, the Justice and Development (AK) party is probably transforming Turkey from a secular into a more Islamic society, with a big effect on the status of women, the situation of minorities, and Turkey’s foreign policy.

Both statements are true. And this is the point many observers are missing in the great change signaled by the election results.