Archive for November, 2007

We cannot ignore the Iranian nukes

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

At the very least, the Iranian nuclear program represents a challenge to the economic and political hegemony of the US and Europe that has dominated most of the world since the fall of the Soviet Union. At most, it may presage a revolutionary change that will replace the Western rationalist politics that have been dominant since the Eighteenth Century with something totally different. The fact that such a revolution will have as a side effect the disappearance of the tiny Jewish state is only a small part of it.

Those of us who think that the values of the Enlightenment represent an improvement over what preceded them, therefore, must be concerned with this development. Unfortunately, most of the world does not have the means to do anything about it, some nations applaud it, and others — like Russia, perhaps — think it is in their short-term interest.

The US, despite being overextended and despite a desperate economic situation may still be able to take action that will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear capability. There is no doubt that only military action will work, because the worldwide will for effective diplomatic action does not exist. But we need to understand what is at stake.

There is evidence that elements in the US government have decided that Iranian nukes are inevitable, and that we need to find a way to live in this new world.

Michael Freund, a former official in Benjamin Netanyahu’s Prime Ministership, lists five reasons that accepting this position would lead to disaster:

1. An Iranian nuclear arsenal would transform the strategic dynamic of the entire Middle East, shifting the balance of power squarely in the direction of radical Shi’ite fundamentalism.

An atomic Iran will be able to threaten the region and the world with nuclear blackmail and destruction, and they will use that leverage to further their fanatical and revolutionary aims.

Interestingly, the primary means that this will be carried out is by threats to the West’s oil supply. This form of economic warfare has already begun even before the nuclear weapons have been armed, as Iranian-fomented instability has pushed the price of oil up to almost $100/bbl. The cost of fuel in the US has shot up in the past year, adding to the inflationary pressures caused by war spending. There is talk of denominating the price of oil in Euros, which could trigger a massive currency devaluation.

2. A nuclear-armed Iran will pose an existential threat to Israel, and ultimately to the West too. Iranian leaders have repeatedly and explicitly promised to wipe Israel off the map and to strike at the United States.

Teheran has been backing up its words with actions by steadily improving its ballistic missile capability. The Shihab-3 missile, with a range of 1,200 km, can hit all of Israel as well as US military targets in the Middle East. Iran is busy developing the Shihab-4, with a range of 2,000 km, that will put parts of Europe within striking distance. Teheran is also striving to build even longer-range intercontinental missiles that can hit the US as well. All of these weapons have the ability to deliver atomic warheads.

3. If Iran goes nuclear, it will inevitably tilt the neighboring Arab states further in the direction of extremism, as they seek to mollify the nuclear-armed ayatollahs. Whatever limited chances there might be of drawing at least some Arab states into the moderate camp are likely to be stymied rather quickly.

4. Failure to take action against Teheran will trigger a region-wide nuclear arms race, as countries throughout the Middle East will seek to achieve strategic and military parity.

A number of states, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have already announced plans to build their own nuclear power plants, and others will undoubtedly do so as well out of fear of being left behind. Permitting Iran to go nuclear essentially paves the way to a Middle East that will be brimming with atomic weapons.

5. If Iran were to develop “the bomb,” what is to stop them from putting it into the hands of one of the myriad anti-Israel and anti-American terrorist groups that they support, such as Hizbullah or Islamic Jihad? Do we really want to take a chance that terrorists might at last be able to get their hands on nuclear weapons? This is not some “neocon nightmare scenario” or “warmonger wishful-thinking.”

The consequences of a nuclear Iran will be the destruction, not only of Israel, but of the United States. We will be weakened by economic warfare, further damaged by terrorist attacks against our financial, industrial, and perhaps even agricultural infrastructure, and ultimately reduced to third-rate power status. This does not even require that the Iranian weapons be actually used!

Enlightenment values in Europe are already under attack by the steady growth of Islam — and radical Islam. What will happen when it is in range of Iranian nuclear missiles?

It’s possibly not too late for US leaders to grapple with these problems and take action. They will have to put aside political and personal considerations and understand the fact that we are at a historical tipping point from which the future may go either way.

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The argument is about the Jewish state, not a Palestinian one

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

Here’s how Paul Reynolds of the BBC sees the chances that Annapolis will have a positive result:

There are perhaps only two reasons for any hope.

The first is the fear of something worse.

Annapolis can be seen as a way of trying to support the moderates.

The strategy is to show Palestinians that talks can produce results and that the confrontation promoted by Hamas in Gaza is not the way forward.

The danger is that this strategy might fail and leave the Palestinians with nothing and the Israelis still in the state of “siege” described by the Irish and UN diplomat Conor Cruise O’Brien in 1986.

I would suggest that the real danger is that this strategy might succeed, Israel will get out of the West Bank, and then the ‘moderates’ will stop pretending to be moderate or be replaced by Hamas. But Reynolds’ real point is to come:

The second is a better understanding that the philosophy behind Oslo and the road map might be wrong. Both those agreements sought to establish an atmosphere of peace and security first, leading to a final agreement second.

There is nothing wrong with trying to create better conditions, something for example that the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been trying to do on the economic front.

But without a final agreement, there can probably be no peace and security. Security will not lead to an agreement. It is an agreement that will lead to security.

In other words, unless Israel gives the Palestinians the agreement they want, there will not be peace and security. An ‘agreement’ sounds so civilized, but the word for concessions made to stop someone from trying to kill you is ‘appeasement’.

Is it too much to ask, as the roadmap and Oslo did, that the Palestinians stop terrorism before they get their state, especially since one would like to have some reason to think that they are capable of it before putting them in rocket range of Ben Gurion Airport? Apparently Reynolds thinks so.

It’s mind-boggling that the response to the failure of the Palestinians to meet their commitment to end terrorism, which was the primary reason for the collapse of Oslo and the Roadmap, should be to simply give up on the requirement and push Israel to hand over territory even while terrorism continues.

But there are other indications that Reynolds and the BBC see Israel, and not the Palestinians, as the main obstacle to peace:

There has been little sign that they are anywhere near agreement [on borders, Jerusalem, settlements, and ‘right of return’ for refugees].

Instead there has been a new argument – about an Israeli demand that Israel should be recognised as a “Jewish state”.

This is something fundamental for the Israelis but Palestinians see it as taking one of their cards – the refugees – off the table in advance.

First of all, this is not a ‘new’ argument. It is no more and no less than an insistence that the Palestinians (and the world) recognize that the Jews won the war of 1948, when a Jewish state was established in Mandatory Palestine. It is being articulated now because it is evident that the Arabs do not accept this.

The absolutely absurd, historically unprecedented, requirement that a hostile population of 4 to 5 million descendants of refugees from a war that their side lost 59 years ago ‘return’ — does not belong “on the table” at all, and it should be seen, along with the denial of Israel’s right to be a Jewish state, as a demand for the reversal of the outcome of the 1948 war. Far from a demand for self-determination for Palestinians, it is a refusal to grant this same right to Jews.

Reynolds and the BBC suggest that the issue is about such things as the size of the Palestinian state, how much of Jerusalem they will end up with, and the welfare of the refugee descendants.

What they don’t see, or (less charitably) pretend not to see is that this argument is not actually about the Palestinians and their state. More fundamentally, it’s about the Jews and theirs.

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Zionism means self-determination for the Jewish People

Monday, November 19th, 2007

I’ve criticized Ami Isseroff for, in my opinion, having a too-optimistic estimation of the Palestinian desire for peace. However, in regard to the recent statements by Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Prime Minister Salem Fayyad that they will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state, he is right on (“Don’t make us choose between Zionism and peace“).

First, he recognizes that the issue is about self-determination for the Jewish people, and not about religion:

Half a dozen “analysts” showed that they are as totally clueless about the meaning of Zionism as Erekat pretended to be. They took his argument, that there cannot be a state of a religion, at face value, and proceeded to point out carefully that the Muslims have religious states, Britain has an established church and so on.

But really, who cares what others do? What matters is what we do, and whether it is right or not. The Muslims can have as many Islamic states as they want, where wife beating is legal and you can get tips on how to do it, and where adulteresses are stoned to death and homosexuals are hanged. I do not want such a state and that was never the goal of Zionism. It was shocking to read these apologies for theocracy from otherwise enlightened people. Why would we want a Jewish Republic of Israel, run by Jewish Khomeinis?

And Isseroff, a ‘peacenik’, nevertheless understands (as others on the Left do not) exactly why this is the fundamental issue between Israel and the Palestinians:

The logic of [Meretz MK Yossi] Beilin and others is that if we bring up recognition of the Jewish State then we can’t have “peace.” Beilin forgot that the whole goal of the peace negotiations from our point of view, is the goal of Zionism – to have a recognized national home for the Jewish people. He forgot why we are here.

If Israel was not created to be the state of the Jewish people, then for what reason did we fight all those wars? …If we wanted an Arab state, we had only to sit on our hands in 1948 and 1967 and 1973. There would be “peace” without a state of the Jewish people. That is what it means.

If we give up on that issue, if Israel is not recognized as the state of the Jewish people, and our right to self-determination is not recognized, then we have given up on all the issues. The is not just a theoretical point of pride. It has the most profound implications. If we surrender the right of the Jews to self-determination, we have no basis for refusing the right of return to Palestinian Arab refugees. We have no reason to maintain the Law of Return either. The borders of the Arab Democratic Republic of Israel with the neighboring Palestinian state would not matter. PM Achmad Tibi of Israel could negotiate them with PM Hanniyeh or PM Fayyad. Or he could send Beilin to negotiate another Beilin Abu-Mazen agreement. [my emphasis]

Yes, I know it is hard to define ‘the Jewish People’. It’s not any easier to define “the Palestinian People” either, but as the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein pointed out, the lack of a simple, unambiguous criterion for the applicability of a concept does not make it meaningless. As Isseroff notes, both Saeb Erekat and Yossi Beilin would scream bloody murder if someone suggested that there was no ‘Palestinian People’ which has the right to a state.

As we come closer to the Annapolis conference — which may be a non-event, or which may encompass the imposition of the Saudi plan for the dismemberment of Israel — it’s critical to keep our eyes on that which is essential and distinguish it from the rest. It’s absolutely essential that there be no surrender of the fundamental principle of Zionism, which is that there is a Jewish People, and the State of Israel is the expression of its right to self-determination.

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Jewish political correctness?

Saturday, November 17th, 2007

MK Naomi Chazan of Meretz has written an article in which she tries to explain the reasons for the “disengagement from institutionalized Jewry” of young Jewish professionals in the US.

She makes three main arguments:

  • Discourse about Israel in the US has focused on the conflict and not on such domestic issues as corrupt politicians, the Orthodox influence on everyday life, the ‘constitutional debate’, and the gaps between rich and poor, Jew and Arab. “Some of the very gripping challenges which make Israel real are simply not discussed”, she says.
  • The Jewish establishment is more right-wing than the “young professionals”, making alliances with “neo-conservatives”, Christian fundamentalists, etc.
  • And finally — the establishment does not permit dissent.

I’ll take them in reverse order. Let me quote her:

…the emergence of watchdog groups monitoring the press, campus life and even the voluntary sector leaves little room for any nuance.

A new type of Jewish political correctness precludes dissent on the official interpretation of everything from Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer’s study of the Jewish lobby or Jimmy Carter’s book on the conflict to tenure decisions in academe.

Did I read this correctly? Is it political correctness that has produced near-unanimity of Jewish opinion on Mearsheimer and Walt’s weaving of traditional antisemitic themes together with half-truths and false accusations into a pseudo-scholarly hit piece?

Did all fourteen Jewish members of the board of the Carter Center (and they were not an especially conservative bunch) resign because of political correctness?

Was it politically correct for Jews to oppose tenure for Norman Finkelstein, a man who often compares Israelis to Nazis, admits to “publically honoring the heroic resistance of Hezbollah to foreign occupation“, and wrote a book claiming that Holocaust remembrances, scholarship, museums, etc. are a Zionist plot to justify stealing Palestinian land?

Do organizations like Honest Reporting, CAMERA, and Campus Watch, which exist to draw attention to and refute anti-Israel bias in the media and on campuses have any actual power to limit “nuance”? How, exactly, is it coercive to stand up for a position in the face of massive propaganda to the contrary?

Chazan says that the “Jewish establishment” is more right-wing than the disengaged young professionals that is concerned about. She writes,

Progressive voices have few organized outlets (notably the Reform Movement, the New Israel Fund, the Israel Policy Forum, Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom). These have been mostly excluded from the formal Jewish establishment.

But the Reform Movement is the single largest Jewish organization in the US! If it is not part of the ‘establishment’, I can only assume that Chazan means ‘right-wing establishment’, which renders her argument trivial. There are plenty of left-wing Jewish voices being heard in America; if there are right-wing voices in such organizations as AIPAC, perhaps it is because the conservatives are more firmly in support of the interests of the state of Israel than many of the liberals, who are much more ambivalent about the conflict.

As far as Americans being interested in Israeli domestic issues — or, should I say, Chazan’s left-wing version of what the burning domestic issues in Israel today are — does she think that more understanding of corrupt Israeli politicians (not all of whom are right-wing, by the way) will inspire young Jews to pro-Israel activity?

I doubt it. Her rhetorical purpose in mentioning these ‘issues’ is to suggest that they are in some sense more important than the conflict. This is the same impulse that leads M. J. Rosenberg to imply that “ending the occupation” is more important for Israel’s security than preventing Hamas from placing rocket launchers in the West Bank.

But of course survival has to be the primary value, more urgent even than the question of whether it is insulting to Israeli Arabs that Israel’s national anthem is Hatikvah.

So what is causing the ‘disengagement’ of many liberal Jews from, for example, AIPAC or the Jewish Federations?

Simple. They are absorbing and internalizing the anti-Israel bias that permeates the academic and political milieus that they inhabit. A pro-Israel professor on an American campus is probably even rarer than one that voted for George Bush, and today anti-Zionism and even antisemitism are more pervasive in left-wing political circles than ever before. The last thing one wants to do is give the impression that one is pro-Israel, or, God forbid, a Zionist.

The way to turn this around is not to try to make the Jewish establishment turn Left, as Chazan apparently wishes. This would only go even further in promoting anti-Zionism, just as the extreme Left in Israel has become, absurdly, anti-Zionist — and in fact, anti-Israel.

Rather, more effort needs to be expended in trying to counteract the lies and distortions about Israel and the Arabs that are being promulgated so widely by the Left today.

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Reality inversion alert!

Saturday, November 17th, 2007

Reality inversion alerts will be issued by whenever Israel’s enemies or their lackeys are caught using their favorite propaganda technique, which is to turn the truth upside down by falsely accusing Israel of doing exactly what they themselves do or try to do.

So, for example, when lackey of apartheid Saudi Arabia Jimmy Carter accuses Israel of being an “apartheid state”, or when the genocidal Hamas movement accuses Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians, reality inversion is taking place.

Here’s today’s inversion:

The Turkish delegation that visited Jerusalem in March to inspect the excavations at the Mughrabi Gate near the Temple Mount has concluded that the work is destroying artifacts from different historic Islamic periods, and called on Israel to coordinate their activities with the Palestinians and the international community, the Turkish newspaper A-Zamaan reported on Saturday.

“The work being conducted by Israel does not abide by the appropriate [excavation standards], and the dig testifies to the fact that Israel is interested in destroying artifacts from the Islamic periods,” the report quoted the envoy as saying. — Jerusalem Post

Of course this is not the case. In fact, the digging around the Mughrabi Gate (outside the walls of the Temple Mount) has been done under extremely close archaeological supervision. On the other hand the Muslim Waqf is now — and has in the past — conducted extensive construction activity on the Temple Mount itself with no supervision, and archaeologists were scandalized when artifacts were found in discarded rubble.

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