Archive for April, 2008

Peace between Israel and Syria? Not likely.

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Does anyone know what’s really going on between Israel and Syria?

Keep in mind:

— that Israel recently bombed what is thought to have been a nuclear installation manned by North Korean technicians;

— that with Iranian aid, Syria has recently undergone a huge buildup of missile forces aimed at every part of Israel, some with chemical warheads;

— that both sides have recently increased military preparedness in border areas, with Syria moving large forces to the border.

Along with all of these disquieting indicators, we have this:

In an interview with the Qatari daily Al Watan the Syrian president claimed that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had informed him that Olmert had agreed to cede the Golan for peace…

“Olmert told the Turkish prime minister that he was willing to retreat from the Golan,” Assad said, claiming that Olmert’s willingness to cede the plateau was reiterated in interviews he gave before Pessah…

On Wednesday, western diplomatic officials, who confirmed that messages from Jerusalem to Damascus and vice versa have been going through Erdogan’s office for months, said Israel made clear that any peace agreement would necessitate Syria ending its support for Hamas and throwing Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal out of Damascus; ceasing support for Hizbullah; and distancing itself from Iran. — Jerusalem Post

Here are some questions that immediately come to mind:

Does Israel have enough confidence in Assad to withdraw from the very strategic Golan at a time when tensions with Syria are at their highest point in years?

The Syrian leadership has used the conflict with Israel as an excuse to suppress domestic demands for reform and economic liberalization for decades. Do they intend to give this up?

Syria has very little volition independent of Iran. It is also a critical part of Hizbullah and Hamas’ supply line from Iran. Will Iran sit quietly while Syria makes peace with its enemy, Israel, and isolates its proxies?

Control of Lebanon is one of Syria’s major foreign policy goals. It has been pursuing this by means of increasing Hizbullah’s influence (often by murdering its political opponenents). Will Assad disconnect from Hizbullah?

And finally, will Syria, which has been carrying the banner of implacable hostility to Israel for so long, isolate herself from the mainstream of the Arab world?

I’m doubtful.

One explanation that perhaps partly makes sense is that it’s all a smokescreen to distract attention from whatever revelations will be made today in the US about the bombed nuclear installation. This presents its own set of mysteries, like why Israel was so closed-mouthed about the operation, and why the US is suddenly rolling out its version of the affair.

Another view is that Assad, with full backing from Iran, believes that Israel was sufficiently chastened by the Second Lebanon War that it will be prepared to give back the Golan and get essentially nothing in return.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has made it clear that he’s no fool, at least so he says. But it seems to me that if one knows in advance that the other party in a negotiation cannot possibly provide an acceptable deal, and indeed that his offer is dishonest, then best not begin negotiating at all.

Black Wedding (courtesy Cox and Forkum)

Is the honeymoon over? I don’t think so (courtesy

Technorati Tags: ,

Kadish espionage case raises questions

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Ben-Ami KadishThe arrest of 84-year old Ben-Ami Kadish by the FBI for espionage allegedly committed in the early 1980’s has been in the news for several days.

Kadish, a dual citizen of Israel and the US, is said to have served in the British and US military in WWII and in the Hagana during the War of Independence.

He was working for the US Army’s Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey as a mechanical engineer between 1979-1985, when he is accused of having copied secret documents for Israeli intelligence. Supposedly this included information on nuclear weapons, modified F-15 fighters sold to Saudi Arabia, and the Patriot missile defense system.

According to prosecutors, he could face life imprisonment or even the death penalty.

Naturally the connection to the Jonathan Pollard case has been raised. Both offenses were said to have been committed at about the same time, and both Pollard and Kadish seem to have been ‘idealists’:

A criminal complaint said Kadish confessed to FBI agents on Sunday that he had given the Israeli [agent] between 50 and 100 classified documents and accepted no cash in return, only small gifts and occasional dinners for him and his family.

Kadish admitted to the charges in court, saying that he wanted to help Israel. — Jerusalem Post

The most interesting question raised by all this is “why has Kadish only been arrested now?” After all, the alleged crimes took place more than 23 years ago. If the FBI recently obtained new information, where did it come from?

Debka suggests that the information is not new:

The material put before the court indicates that the federal authorities and CIA had long been aware that the Connecticut-born military engineer was passing classified documents to the Israeli science attaché at the New York consulate before his retirement at least 18 years ago.

If this is so, then why arrest Kadish now? Several possibilities come to mind:

The connection with Jonathan Pollard. Efforts are being made to free Pollard before President Bush leaves office, and another spy scandal would do serious damage. We know that there are those in the US government and CIA very strongly committed to keeping Pollard imprisoned for life.

Pollard’s fate (he is in his 23rd year of a life sentence, imposed when the Government reneged on a plea bargain) indicates that there is special treatment reserved for Jewish spies for Israel. No one else has ever received such a sentence for spying for an ally in peacetime, and even those who spied for enemies almost always got lighter sentences (Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen are exceptions).

A desire to damage the US-Israel relationship. The trial of AIPAC staffers Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman for giving national security information to Israel is about to begin. The Government’s case is remarkably weak and one can argue that the defendants were victims of entrapment. I’ve speculated that this case is part of an attempt on the part of anti-Israel elements to weaken AIPAC and Jewish influence in general, so as to make it easier to move US policy in a pro-Arab direction. The Kadish case supports the “dual loyalty” argument.

Further details will certainly come out in the near future.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

The sources of antisemitism today

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

Antisemitism has taken many forms throughout its long career. It’s a frustrating rejoinder to those who believe that there is such a thing as social progress analogous to technological development.

Many of us think of Christian antisemitism, forged in the struggle of the early Christians with the Roman Empire, as the seminal form from which later Jew-hatreds sprang. There’s some truth to this.

The recent film (from the book by James Carroll) “Constantine’s Sword” comes down quite hard on the Catholic Church:

In Carroll’s telling, Catholic hostility to Jews goes back at least to the fourth century, when the emperor Constantine conquered Rome, carrying a sword fashioned as a cross. At the time, he says in the film, there were roughly the same number of Jews as Christians in the world.

In subsequent centuries, the Church’s attitudes toward Jews ranged from cold tolerance to frenzied orgies of religiously inspired mass murder. Among the highlights of this tortured history is the total destruction of centers of Jewish life situated along the Rhine river in 1096. As the Crusaders journeyed to the Holy Land to make war on the Muslims — armed with shields bearing signs of the cross and with priests in the lead — they warmed up for the battles to come by wiping out the Jewish settlements in their path. — Ben Harris (JTA)

There is no question that it was bad for Jews in the Christian world long after the middle ages. Discrimination, pogroms, even mass expulsions were their lot in Europe for hundreds of years. My own grandparents fled the Pale of Settlement almost exactly 100 years ago to escape violent persecution by the locals, who used Christianity as an excuse for their actions.

In the mid-20th century the anti-Christian Nazis and the atheist Stalin cynically used Christian themes to buttress their own antisemitic programs, and the Jews suffered mightily. And there were also Catholic voices raised against the Jews, even here in America (see Charles Coughlin). But a funny thing happened, in part as a reaction to the massive evil of this time:

The Church grew up.

In one of the most important documents of the modern Church, Nostra Aetate (1965 – read it!), Pope Paul VI does not dilute what he sees as the fundamental principle of Christianity — that there is only one way to salvation — but calls upon Catholics to understand and appreciate the truths (albeit partial, in his view) found in other religions. Most importantly, he demands that the Church treat adherents of other religions with respect and tolerance, specifically denouncing antisemitism.

Unfortunately, at just about the same time that the traditional host of the antisemitism virus began to reject it, a new one appeared. During the 1960’s, the Arab-Israeli conflict had taken the form of a proxy struggle between the US and the Soviet Union, with the Soviets taking the side of the Arabs. This led to such absurdities as fascist Arab regimes like that of Syria declaring themselves to be ‘socialists’, but also to the international Left — which if not pro-Soviet was at least anti-American — taking a strong anti-Israel position as well.

Although not all anti-Zionism is antisemitic, there is a natural progression which has been followed here, and today the extreme Left has outstripped the neo-Nazi Right as a reservoir of antisemitic expression.

But the greatest outpouring of Jew-hatred today comes from the Muslim world:

Muslim anti-Semitism is growing in scope and extremism, to the point that it has become a credible strategic threat for Israel, according to a 180-page report produced for Israeli policymakers by the semi-official Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC)…

Among the report’s most worrying findings is the growth over the past three decades of uniquely Muslim roots to older European versions of anti-Semitism. Without discounting classical Christian Europe’s canards regarding secret Jewish conspiracies, the ritual slaughter of non-Jewish children and other allegations of Jewish evil, anti-Semitism in the Muslim world increasingly finds its own, Islamic reasons for anti-Jewish hatred through new interpretations of Islamic history and scripture.

From the Koranic story of a Jewess who poisoned Muhammad, to the troubled relations between Muhammad and the Jewish tribes of Arabia, radical Islamist groups and thinkers have been using extreme anti-Semitic rhetoric that has grown increasingly popular with the Muslim public, particularly in Iran and the Arab states. Using well-known Koranic texts, these groups have been mapping out the Jews’ “innate negative attributes” and teaching a paradigm of permanent struggle between Muslims and Jews.

The goal of this “Islamified” anti-Semitism, according to the report, is to transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a national territorial contest which could be resolved through compromise to a “historic, cultural and existential struggle for the supremacy of Islam.” — Jerusalem Post

The report goes on to describe how — instead of European antisemitic literature being imported to the Middle East, it is now exported to Europe, where it influences Muslim segments of the population there. And in the Middle East, antisemitism has government approval in many countries which are allegedly at peace with Israel — like Egypt, where you can buy Arabic translations of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion on many street corners.

The most worrisome thing in the report is that antisemitism as an instrument of national policy, last seen in Nazi Germany, has returned:

At the heart of this surge in Muslim anti-Semitism lies Iran, with the regime’s support for Holocaust denial and hosting of anti-Semites from around the world, along with formal calls for Israel’s destruction by many of the country’s leaders.

“Iran is the first example of its kind since Nazi Germany in which a state officially adopts an active policy of anti-Semitism as a means to further its national interests,” the report notes.

It goes on to say that while Iran does not deny that Jews were massacred during WWII, the current regime seeks to minimize the scale of the Holocaust in order to reduce support for Israel’s very existence in the West, which it believes comes from feelings of guilt over the world’s inaction while Jews were murdered during WWII.

So one can understand, in the face of all this, my unconcern about Pope Benedict XVI’s promulgation of a Latin Good Friday prayer that calls for Catholics to pray for the Jews to accept Jesus as savior — something which does not contradict Nostra Aetate, although it is perhaps uncomfortable for some Jews, and although liberal Catholics may wish that the Church had moved further along the road to ecumenicism than it actually did.

Nevertheless, it’s unfortunate that other organizations, like the UN, have not followed the lead of the Church in this area. If the world has learned anything from the history of the mid-20th century one would expect firm condemnations — and real sanctions — of governments like those of Egypt and especially Iran, which today exemplify the racist philosophy that should have been buried with Adolf Hitler.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Fresno’s Durban Conference

Monday, April 21st, 2008

Fresno State’s Middle East Studies program is planning an “International Conference” on “Teaching about the Middle East in the 21st Century” this October.

Why do I care? Because, given the politicization of academia in general and Middle East Studies in particular — and the individuals running the conference — I expect that it will not be a quiet exercise in arcane scholarship.

Instead, I expect another attempt to bring the politics of hatred to our local university, just as the same people turned a benign “International Days” event into a vicious anti-Israel “Palestine Day” in 2003.

Papers apparently can be about absolutely anything Mideast-related. Some of the ‘disciplines’ listed are

• Culture, Gender & Ethnography
• Diaspora & Migration Culture
• Middle East Politics & Representations
• U.S. Foreign Policy

It’s easy to guess the kind of material that is likely to be presented in those ‘disciplines’, especially since the postmodernist revolution in academia has made it possible to claim that anything politically congenial to the writer is true (see Nadia Abu El-Haj and CSUF’s own Mary Husain).

The conference chair is Dr. Sasan Fayazmanesh, by trade an economist, but known for popularizing the term “USrael”, in support of his view that US and Israeli policy is closely coordinated (if only it were so), and dominated by a “neo-con” (Jewish) cabal.

The Middle East Studies program has been in existence for a year, funded by a grant from the US Department of Education. Judging by the course offerings and programs, my feeling is that it should have been called “Arab and Persian” studies, since there is no indication that there are or ever have been Christians or Jews in the region! The program is chaired by Dr. Vida Samiian, Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, “Palestine Day” organizer, and an activist who has been responsible for bringing numerous anti-Israel speakers and films to the area.

Let’s hope this will not turn into Fresno’s Durban Conference.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Palestinian photographer killed, IDF investigating

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

News item:

The IDF says it will investigate the killing of a cameraman for the Reuters news agency in Gaza.

Fadel Shana was killed while filming an Israeli tank in Gaza on Wednesday, a day of heavy fighting. His final footage shows the tank firing a shell in his direction. Palestinian medics say five others were killed in the incident, including four teenagers.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch says its investigation suggests soldiers fired either recklessly or targeted Shana. — Jerusalem Post

The event is being promoted as a deliberate killing of a non-combatant whose vehicle was marked “TV”, etc.

One thing that is never explained when these accusations are made is exactly how Israel would benefit if it were so. Of course there’s no need to, since the devilish nature of the IDF and indeed all Israelis is taken for granted.

I wasn’t there, of course, but neither was HRW. The whole story raises many questions about what actually happened and why. You can see photos and the original Reuters video, as well as read about likely scenarios here, at Snapped Shot.

My guess is that it will turn out, upon full investigation, that the reporter was ’embedded’ with a Hamas rocket launching team, in which case he should have known quite well what the risks were.

What is important is that the IDF is responding to the accusations. They have learned that it is necessary to dig out the truth in these cases, rather than to let them go unanswered to become part of the great mass of Palestinian lies and libels of the al-Dura variety.

Technorati Tags: , ,