Archive for November, 2007

Another hostage situation

Monday, November 26th, 2007

NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov. 26 — The Sudanese police arrested a British schoolteacher and accused her of insulting Islam after she allowed her 7-year-old pupils to name a class teddy bear Muhammad, Sudanese officials said today…

Ms. [Gillian] Gibbons is in jail, pending further investigation, [Government spokesman Dr. Rabie A. Atti] said. “If she is innocent, she will be set free,” said Dr. Rabie. If she is guilty, Dr. Rabie said, she will face punishment, possibly including lashes…

According to BBC, Ms. Gibbons, 54, asked a seven-year-old girl to bring in a teddy bear and for her classmates to pick a name for it…

When it came time to vote, 20 out of 23 children choose Muhammad, one of the most common names in the Muslim word.

The students then took turns bringing the bear home on weekends, and wrote a diary about what they did with it. According to the BBC, the children’s entries were bound together in a book with a picture of the bear on the cover and a message that read, “My name is Muhammad.” — NY Times

I’m prepared to bet that it will turn out that the unfortunate teacher will be released upon payment of a large ‘fine’, like the Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor held for 8 years in Libya (see The Barbary Pirates at the Security Council).

The fact that ‘respect for Islam’ is used as an excuse for political intimidation and sometimes outright extortion does not tend to make us non-Muslims feel a high regard towards Islam.

I would be pleased if some of my Muslim readers would take time off from trying to hack this site and would comment on this.

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The Annapolis quid pro quo explained

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

The US State Department and others in the Bush Administration aren’t stupid. Yet, they supposedly believe that the Annapolis conference will bring peace. Efraim Inbar lists five false premises on which this initiative is based:

The first is that Palestinian society can be reformed by outsiders. Middle Eastern societies have already proven their resistance to attempts by Western powers to change their old ways of doing business. It is naïve to believe that political and social dynamics rooted in centuries-old traditions can be easily manipulated by well-intentioned, but presumptuous Westerners. President George W. Bush should have learned this lesson from his experience in Iraq…

…second… that economic assistance to the Palestinians can alleviate political problems. Since the Oslo Accords in September 1993, the Palestinian Authority has received the most economic aid per capita in the world. Yet billions of euros transferred to the PA have been squandered or misused. Like some other Third World actors, the PA has been ingenious in siphoning a not insignificant amount of the aid it gets to those least in need of outside support…

…third… that Mahmoud Abbas can become the agent for change and therefore he deserves the support of the West… The Hamas takeover of Gaza is an obvious indication of his weakness.

…fourth… that Palestinian society can be quickly transformed into a good neighbor of Israel and that a stable settlement is within reach. Since the Oslo Accords, the PA’s education system, media, and dramatic militarization process has done great damage to the collective Palestinian psyche… Numerous facets of Palestinian society have been radicalized and the widespread influence and popularity of Hamas is a clear indication of such a process… What they expect to get from Israel is totally unrealistic… Palestinian demands for bringing refugees from 60 years ago and their descendents into Israel and for control over parts of old Jerusalem are simply not acceptable in today’s Israel.

…fifth… that Hamas control of Gaza can be uprooted by intra-Palestinian politics. While Hamas’s takeover of Gaza is correctly identified by the US as a victory for the Islamist forces in the Middle East and inimical to Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement, a Fatah led by Abbas cannot bring Hamas back under the PA umbrella.

OK, so it won’t fly. But as I said, they are not stupid. So why are they trying to launch it?

One word: Iraq. There is nothing more important to the US than a non-disastrous exit from Iraq, and two of the major players in the upcoming conference (they are not Israel and the Palestinians) hold what appear to be the keys. I’m talking about Saudi Arabia and Syria, of course.

Recently, there has been a phenomenon of Iraqi Sunni support for US operations against foreign Sunni insurgents associated with al-Qaeda. This is being called the first sign of real progress for the US in Iraq. As the major Sunni power in the region, Saudi Arabia can certainly influence the Iraqi tribal leaders; and they can reduce the infiltration of foreign insurgents (most of whom are Saudis). Recent improvements in the situation in Iraq indicate that perhaps they have already begun to exert their influence.

In return, the Saudis want their vision of the future of the former Palestine Mandate — the Saudi/Arab League initiative — to be imposed on Israel. In this way they, not Iran, will be the ones to finally put the Jews in their place, and they will take their rightful position as the leader of the Arab world. And President Bush’s recent speech indicates that the US views this plan positively.

Syria’s contribution is quite simple. They are the major suppliers of arms to the Sunni insurgents, and both fighters and supplies pass through their porous border. Former head of the Coalition Provisional authority L. Paul Bremer accused Bashar Assad of inciting Shiite factions to wage jihad against US and British forces. What Washington wants of them today is, in Bush’s immortal words, to “Stop doing this shit!”

And what Syria wants is also simple: the Golan Heights, without having to give Israel anything in return; and a free hand to exploit Lebanon.

The Arabists in the State Department that are pushing this plan are doing their best to convince others in the Administration that it will not seriously damage Israel’s security, and that it will enable the US to get out of Iraq without leaving a violent civil war in its wake. Inbar and others have argued persuasively that the first proposition is false.

Regarding the second, we need merely ask: what incentive will Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran have to behave themselves once US forces have gone?

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What does Arab incitement tell us about their intentions?

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has published a document called “Israel, the Conflict and Peace: Answers to frequently asked questions“. It’s a remarkably straightforward and well-written exposition of the present government’s strategy of seeking peace with the Palestinians in the framework of a two-state solution.

Whatever you think of the prospects for success of this approach, it is based on the views expressed by President Bush in his speech of June 2002, and on the so-called ‘Roadmap‘ derived from that — although the Bush Administration may have moved further toward the Arab point of view since then (a recent Bush speech mentioned the Saudi/Arab League Peace Initiative approvingly).

The paper is very readable and interesting, building on the idea of the two-state solution while making clear what Israel expects from its partners in the upcoming negotiations. However, one section in particular — about incitement — struck me as being emblematic of the reason why the whole enterprise has such a small chance of success.

When you read this section, which is specifically directed to incitement against Israel by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, keep in mind that similar remarks could be made about almost any Arab country, including (especially) Egypt, with whom Israel is allegedly at ‘peace’.

How does incitement harm peace?

There is a direct connection between anti-Israeli or antisemitic incitement and terrorism. The extreme anti-Israeli indoctrination that is so pervasive in Palestinian society nurtures a culture of hatred that, in turn, leads to terrorism.


How to best describe the Annapolis conference

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

Choose one of the following:

  1. The Annapolis conference is likely to make it possible for Israelis and Palestinians to start a process of overcoming differences, which will ultimately lead to a two-state solution. Both sides actually want this; they only need to be prepared to make compromises and find creative solutions.
  2. The Annapolis conference will be just another exercise in futility, with lots of photo-ops and posturing, but no change in the situation, because the sides are too far apart.
  3. The Annapolis conference will be a venue at which the US, influenced by Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations by means of threats and promises about Iraq and oil, will force Israel to concede control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and possibly even accept some form of responsibility for the Arab refugees. The Palestinians and their backers have no interest in a two-state solution other than as a step on the path to replacing the Jewish state with an Arab one.

It’s clear that your attitude toward this meeting will depend on which you choose. Defense Minister Ehud Barak apparently likes no. 1:

Barak said he planned to do everything in his power to ensure that the summit would be successful. He has met in recent months several times with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad and was a proponent of the decision to allow 500 armed Palestinian policemen to deploy in Nablus…

“There is a high chance that it [the summit] will succeed,” he said. “It will begin the process. The real test will be when we discuss the core issues when the talks begin after the summit.” — Jerusalem Post

There are others, however, who do not:

“There is no real partner for peace. The Palestinians have a very weak government,” [opposition leader MK Binyamin Netanyahu] told IDF Radio. The unilateral concessions being made by Israel “do not strengthen security but according to every security official opposed to these moves, they endanger the security of Israel’s citizens and soldiers. We have already paid a price for this process and we must stop it,” Netanyahu declared.

Minister for Strategic Matters Avigdor Lieberman told IBA Radio Wednesday that there were two possible outcomes to Annapolis: the first – a complete Israeli surrender to the PA’s demands, and the second – an impasse in the negotiations. He repeated that Israel must demand the PA’s acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition for further negotiations. — Arutz Sheva

So which is it? Ami Isseroff seems to think that because the official position of the Israeli government and the point of view of the majority of Israelis is that a negotiated two-state solution is desirable, then anyone who does not support the Annapolis conference might as well join Hamas:

The ZOA and the the anti-peace propaganda of a minority of extremists serves to promote the narrow political views of those groups. In reality, it serves the interests of the enemies of Israel. This vicious and hysterical campaign [against Annapolis] does not represent the position of the government of the state of Israel, nor that of the majority of Israelis, Jewish and non-Jewish. It paints Israel as a pariah state that does not want peace. It paints Zionism as a reactionary movement that desires to use force to dominate the Middle East. It paints the “Israel lobby” as a collection of chauvinistic and xenophobic warmongers, uninterested in the strategic needs and goals of the United States, single-mindedly pursuing an unrealistic messianic vision for Israel. It does more for Arab and Muslim extremism then all the drivel of Mearsheimer and Walt, and all the ill-judged and ignorant diatribes of Jimmy Carter. — ZioNation, ‘The real Zionist position on Annapolis’

But there is a gaping hole in Isseroff’s argument: the unstated premise that the Annapolis conference will advance a peaceful two-state solution.

Most of the arguments of the ZOA which Isseroff targets in his piece are aimed exactly against this premise, and not against such a solution, if it could be achieved:

In November, a U.S.-sponsored conference involving Israel, the Palestinian Authority [PA] and possibly several Arab states will convene in Annapolis to frame yet another plan meant to end the Arab-Israeli war and create a Palestinian state. This conference is doomed to fail. The reason: The Palestinians’ ultimate goal is not statehood, but rather Israel’s destruction.

That fact has remained unchanged since Israel embarked on the disastrous Oslo process with Yasir Arafat in 1993, culminating in a terror war after then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered a Palestinian state on nearly all of the disputed territories, which was rejected.

Despite this, the Bush administration, with international approval, is proceeding on the fiction that Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party, which he co-founded with Arafat and which controls the PA, want peace and accept Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

If only it were true. The PA is required under signed commitments in the Oslo agreements and also in the 2003 road map peace plan to arrest terrorists, confiscate their weaponry and end the incitement to hatred and murder, including against America, in PA-controlled media, mosques, schools and youth camps. It has failed to do so. — Morton Klein, ZOA President [my emphasis]

Klein makes it quite clear that he simply does not believe that the PA and its Arab sponsors have peaceful intentions, and that is why he opposes the Annapolis conference. There is also the issue of Hamas, which is poised to step in and take advantage of any Israeli concessions. It is slander to say that opponents to Annapolis are “opponents of peace”, when they are actually opponents of a pseudo-peace that, like Oslo, will ultimately result in war — a war that will be fought at a strategic disadvantage.

What about option 2, that Annapolis will turn out to be exactly nothing? This is probably the best that we can hope for, but there are rumblings that suggest that we may not be that lucky. Saudi Arabia (in the person of Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisa) has announced that it will attend, as will Syria. It seems to me that the only inducement strong enough to bring them would be a promise from the US that there will be substantive Israeli concessions.

We may find out which description of Annapolis was correct this coming week.

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The New York Times exposed

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

I’ve previously written about some less-than-obvious forms of media bias (for example see my comments on NPR here and here).

Many people think that “media bias” consists primarily of simple falsehoods and omissions, lack of balance in selecting spokespeople, lack of context, etc. All this exists, but there are even more subtle techniques, which are highly effective because they come in “under the radar” of even a relatively skeptical reader or viewer, and because they are constantly repeated.

Such things as diction, passive or active voice, order of presentation, etc. combine with the more obvious techniques to produce ‘news’ stories with a powerful propaganda effect. Given the amount of psychological research undertaken to develop advertising that works, it’s not surprising that these methods find their way into political literature. It is somewhat disconcerting when one recognizes them in what is supposed to be ‘news’.

As in The New York Times, for example.

Honest Reporting has done a tremendous job of analyzing the NYT’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the past six months. Here is their summary of this analysis:

  • Balance: Despite an evenly balanced selection of stories on Israel and the Palestinians, the New York Times gave far more weight to Israeli military incidents in text location, headlines and photo selection than to Palestinian attacks. More than 60% of images sympathetic to one side or the other favored the Palestinians.
  • Consistency: Israeli and Palestinian actions were not treated consistently in choice of language. Israel or the Israel Defense Forces were the subject of strongly worded, direct headlines in 18 out of 20 cases (90%). However, in the 20 cases where the Palestinians were responsible for attacks, the language was mostly passive and the group responsible was only named in eight instances (40%).
  • Context and Accuracy: Inaccurate statements or important context that would give readers a fuller picture of news events was often omitted. Terms such as “militants”, “occupied territory,” and “illegal settlements” were used without providing a proper explanation.

The entire “New York Times 6 Month Study“, is fascinating reading. It puts the lie to the NYT’s pretense of objectivity and provides a classic example of how to do critical media analysis.

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