Archive for July, 2007

Zionism — a new permanent page

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

A new permanent page has been added to, called “Zionism — What it is and isn’t“. Have a look, and comment if you wish.

Another technical note: recently I added LGF Headlines to the sidebar. Regardless of what you may think of the ideology or the tone of Little Green Footballs, it is possibly the most up-to-date source of breaking news in many areas of particular interest, such as the Middle East and terrorism.

Department of ‘What were they thinking?’

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

The NY Times reports:

JERUSALEM, July 22 — Israel’s Education Ministry announced Sunday that it had approved a textbook for use in the state’s Arab schools that for the first time described Israel’s 1948 war of independence as a “catastrophe” for the Arab population…

The Arabic version of a new book for a third-grade course on homeland, society and citizenship, states that “some of the Palestinians fled and some were expelled following the War of Independence” and that “many Arab-owned lands were confiscated,” said an Education Ministry official, Dalia Fenig. It refers to the establishment of Israel as a catastrophe [nakba — ed] for the Palestinians.

The book also reflects the Jewish version of the establishment of the state, as have previous books for the Arab curriculum, including the fact that the Arab parties rejected the 1947 United Nations partition plan for Palestine while the Jews were willing to accept it…

The education minister, Yuli Tamir, of the left-leaning Labor Party, told Israel Radio that there were two populations in Israel, Jewish and Arab, and that “the Arab public deserves to be allowed to express its feelings.” [my emphasis]

Of course the outcome of the 1948 war was bad for the Palestinians. The war was the culmination of almost fifty years of violence against Jews in Palestine, and finally — with the help of neighboring Arab nations — they were on the verge of throwing them out. But they didn’t succeed, and so they suffered.

But the word ‘nakba‘ to the Palestinians refers to much more than a ‘catastrophe’; it denotes the mythical event in which a Zionist conspiracy stole their land, murdered and expelled innocents. The truth is different and more complicated, but there is no other way a Palestinian will understand this term, and there is no room in it for Palestinian responsibility, historical accuracy, or Jewish legitimacy.

It’s as though I wrote a German history book and said, “in 1945, Germany suffered a horrible catastrophe at the hands of the Russians, the Americans, and the British”. In one sense it is true; in another, false. It’s actually much worse than this, because of the Palestinians’ understanding of ‘nakba‘.

But the Hebrew version of the third-grade book does not include the Palestinian version of the events of 1948. Ms. Fenig said that while the Arabic translation was adjusted to address Arab sensitivities and culture, Jewish third graders were considered too young to cope with the conflicting narratives.

I suspect that there may have been some thought that the Jewish parents would not be able to cope, either.

In any event, should the State of Israel aid in “expressing the feelings” of the Arab population when these “feelings” are an ahistorical account of the founding of the state which delegitimizes it? What is the next step for an Arab population with these “feelings”?

The same Times article gives us a possible answer, describing another group of Palestinians with strong feelings:

Later on Sunday, three rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. One fell outside a college near the Israeli border town of Sderot, slightly wounding one woman, and another fell in the grounds of a school in the town. The third landed in an open area, causing no damage, army officials said. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the rocket fire.

Update [24 July 1012 PDT]:

Why do I ever read the New York Times? The report apparently is false. The Jerusalem Post editorial staff, certainly no friend of post-Zionism, describes the actual content of the book as follows:

Unit 3 of the Arabic version is titled “This Land is our Homeland.” Sticking carefully to basic facts, this chapter weaves together the Jewish and Arab perspectives on the Zionist enterprise. It explains why the Jews came to this land, why they wanted a state, how the Arabs reacted, and how the War of Independence started with the refusal of Arab side to accept the UN partition plan and with the invasion of five Arab armies.

The controversial line reads: “The Arabs call the war ‘nakba,’ a war of disaster and loss, while the Jews call it ‘The War of Independence.'”

Contrary to the impression given by the headline in The New York Times (“In Arabic Textbook, Israel Calls ’48 War Catastrophe for Arabs”) and by some of the critics, the textbook does not itself endorse or justify the use of the term “nakba.” Anyone reading the chapter would conclude that Jews and Arabs suffered greatly from a war that the Arab side chose and started.

Indeed, the text seems to be written to help persuade an Israeli Arab third-grader who was being told by much of his surroundings that the Jews are interlopers who stole his land that there is another way of looking at things. Far from presenting the Arab “narrative,” the text seems to be designed to open minds to the Jewish narrative, while including accurate points of reference, such as the costs of the war, that might help reconcile the distortions these students receive from their environment with the facts.

I apologize to the Israeli Education Ministry for accepting this account at face value, and I apologize to my readers for depending on a source as untrustworthy as the New York Times.

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The BBC exposed

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

There are all kinds of anti-Israel bias in news reporting, from the honest one-sidedness found, for example, on Aljazeera or Pacifica Radio, to the subtle manipulation by selective use of emotional content as practiced by NPR.

Barbara PlettThe BBC is somewhere in between, including correspondent Barbara Plett who famously ‘started to cry’ when the helicopter carrying mortally ill Yasser Arafat took off from Ramallah.

Alan JohnstonAnd of course there was Alan Johnston, who did his best to ‘tell the Palestinian story’ from Gaza until one of the militias, in an act of profound ingratitude, kidnapped him and held him for ransom over several months.

But anecdotal evidence of bias is just that. The BBC claims (as does NPR) that overall their reportage is balanced. Now Honest Reporting has analyzed the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the past half-year, and showed conclusively that the style used in headlines and text, and the voices — Israeli or Palestinian — chosen to present the human side of the news, are steeply slanted in one direction.

You can read Honest Reporting’s critique of the BBC here.

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A liberal laments, but still doesn’t get it

Saturday, July 21st, 2007

David Forman (“A Liberal’s Lament“) laments that

Since the onset of the second intifada, the rise of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hamas’s takeover of Gaza, the encroachment of Hizbullah, I am fighting forces within me that are edging to the political right – all the while desperately holding on to a progressive philosophical mindset. In the deepest recesses of my being, I am finding it difficult to maintain my usual equilibrium.

I am constantly doing battle with two competing inclinations – one to preserve my body (my physical well-being) and one to preserve my soul (my moral integrity). And, right now, the urges of my body seem to be getting the upper hand…

How do I maintain a sense of justice for Palestinians whose freedoms have been compromised under Israel’s 40-year occupation and continue to advocate for their human rights, when I know they are being swept up by a pan-Islamism characterized by Islamist extremism? No wonder the Israeli Left has gone underground. Many of our cherished values have gone up in smoke.

We hate the security barrier because it steals Palestinian lands, divides villages and separates families, but we sleep better knowing our children no longer play Russian roulette with their lives when they venture out in public. We deplore targeted assassinations, but when the IDF kills terrorists on their way to fire rockets into Sderot, we breathe a sigh of relief – even if innocent Palestinians are caught in the cross fire.

Does this mean that Forman and others like him have finally understood that they have misread the intentions of the Palestinians, the Arabs, the Iranians — and indeed much of the world — toward the Jews and Israel?

After all, Forman adds,

Everything that those who opposed the unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza predicted would happen has happened. Hizbullah in the north and Hamas in the south are squeezing us and, at a moment’s notice, could wreak havoc upon the country. The internecine fighting in Gaza, where Palestinians killed each other with impunity, proved a harsh reality: These Muslim fanatics are out for anyone’s blood that gets in the way of their ultimate goal – spilling the last drop of Jewish blood.

So what’s an Israeli liberal Jew to do – turn to our leftist sympathizers abroad to gain some perspective and objectivity? Who are they – the American Center for Constitutional Rights that has issued warrants for the arrest of Moshe Ya’alon and Avi Dichter for war crimes; the International Solidarity Movement or the Christian Peacemaker Teams whose Web sites are veritable wellsprings of anti-Semitic drivel?

If he previously had trouble understanding history, does he now — as a result of current events and personal danger — finally get it? Fat chance.

The arrogance of his tone gives a clue. A struggle between body (right-wing territory) and soul (belonging to the Left)! As if his ideological opponents have only an animal ruach next to Forman’s Jewish neshamah! As if they are motivated by fear and self-interest, while he is inspired by higher things!

Forman does not say that he was wrong regarding Oslo, the security fence, the withdrawal from Gaza, or — importantly — about who bears primary responsibility for Palestinian misery. Rather, he recommends for practical reasons that liberals start being more careful lest their words and demonstrations be used by our enemies — even though their “moral conscience” is still with the Palestinians (at least the non-Islamist ones):

So as not to further darken the gathering storm hovering above, we liberals will have to temper our views and moderate our behavior. Does this mean that we limit self-criticism and curtail what we say and what we do because our words and actions can supply ammunition to our detractors and to those who decry our legitimacy as a state? Does it mean that we sacrifice our moral conscience on an altar of fear? No! But, it does mean that we must carefully weigh the possible consequences of our rhetoric and activities. [my emphasis]

In other words, don’t change your beliefs, just be more careful in expressing them.

And he is prepared to acknowledge that at least the Islamists among the Palestinians comprise a threat:

It also means that we who are sympathetic to Palestinian suffering cannot become mirror images of our right-wing adversaries – abandoning any sense of balance [give me a break – ed], thus discounting Israeli pain. More so, even as we concede Israeli offenses, we must acknowledge Palestinian violence and, more importantly, its global implications. With the radicalization of Gaza, surely to be exported to the West Bank, Palestinians are part of a growing Islamist threat to Western stability, and we stand at the forefront of its eventual onslaught. [my emphasis]

What Forman does not say, and what I am almost certain that he would not say, is something like this: “We were wrong in not understanding that the Arabs, including the Palestinians, have been violently opposed to a Jewish presence in the Mideast since the turn of the 20th century, and we were wrong in thinking that the Oslo/Arafat process had a chance. Now we understand that a majority of Palestinians — both Islamist and secular — can be satisfied only by the end of Israel, and are working toward that goal with the support of much of the world”.

The bombast with which Forman presents his manifesto belies its insignificance. While I certainly welcome a reduction in anti-Israel expression from left-wing Jews and Israelis, a deeper understanding of history and events would be even more appreciated.

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Hamas’ attitude toward diplomacy

Friday, July 20th, 2007

In my previous post, I discussed the view of Augustus Richard Norton that the US and Israel should “open diplomatic connections with Hamas”. Here’s a short example of Hamas’ attitude toward diplomacy, from Dr. Ismail Radwan on Palestinian Authority TV this March.

[youtube jxErvEzfoO0 nolink]

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