Archive for May, 2008

Muslim Public Affairs Council UK ignores dangerous Zionist

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Dear Muslim Public Affairs Council of the UK:

I am shocked and insulted to not have been included on your list of American Islamophobes. There is no doubt in my mind that I should appear in Category 1, “The Seed Planters”, along with those such as Bernard Lewis, Daniel Pipes, and Steven Emerson, to whom you attribute what you believe to be the most evil possible motivation: Zionism, which even precedes religious bigotry, greed, and racism on your list of evil motivations.

My suggestion for you, is that first you read “Zionism — what it is and isn’t” so that you can use the word correctly and stop appearing to be antisemitic fools (I don’t think you can actually stop being such, but appearances are important).

Next, if you want to reduce “Islamophobia”, you can do something about UK Muslims like these:

UK Muslims protesting cartoons

UK Muslims protest cartoons

Finally, you can learn that “Islamophobia” (which properly should mean ‘fear of Islam’ and not ‘prejudice against or hatred of Muslims’ as you use it), is almost entirely a reaction to the violent and often murderous behavior of some Muslims — and to the approval granted that behavior by most Muslims.

You can’t have it both ways — you can’t reject Western values of free expression and tolerance, and then accuse those who point this out of racism or bigotry.

If you can’t do any of this, then please put me on your list, along with Lewis, Pipes, and Emerson. I’d be in good company.

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Why there is no Palestinian economy

Friday, May 30th, 2008

This morning, NPR featured a story about how the Palestinian economy is being ruined by ‘the occupation’. Checkpoints and roadblocks, Israeli restrictions on where Palestinians can build roads, etc., have made economic development impossible. The Palestinians are miserable and it’s Israel’s fault.

One might think from the report that the checkpoints, etc., have been there since the beginning of the occupation in 1967. But of course this isn’t true. Most of these were put into place as a direct result of the upsurge in terrorism that began in 2000 with the beginning of Arafat’s intifada.

These impediments wouldn’t be there if they weren’t necessary. Does the Israeli government enjoy the constant condemnation in the press and the UN? Wouldn’t it like to make the Bush administration happy? Does the average Israeli male under the age of 40 open his mailbox and say “great news — I’ll be away from my family and my job for 30 days so I can harass Palestinians at checkpoints”? Although pro-Palestinians scream when I say it, all they have to do is stop terrorism and these will go away.

Now let’s look at the Palestinian economy. Much money has been given to the Palestinians over the years for development of infrastructure for a state and an economy. In the days of Arafat it went mostly into his and his friends’ Swiss bank accounts, or was used to purchase weapons and explosives. Although Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayad seems to be committed to development, the Fatah organization is still a confederation of gangs and clans who allocate funds according to nepotic principles. Even money which is allocated ‘legitimately’ mostly goes to support the ‘security’ forces, the army which the PA would like to build to confront Israel (oops — “fight terrorism”).

And this is the West Bank. In Gaza, Hamas receives large amounts of funding from Iran and other supporters, and spends it on stockpiling arms and building fortifications. The rocket business is booming! But a large part of Gazans’ income came from workers who crossed into Israel, and this has been ended as a result of terrorism — especially including attacks on the very border crossings that they used, forcing them to be closed. And a discussion of Gaza would not be complete without mentioning the greenhouses built by the expelled Jewish settlers, which were purchased by Jewish donors in the US and turned over to the Palestinians — and then torn to pieces by them.

Another aspect of the Palestinian economy in both the West Bank and Gaza is the ‘refugee economy’. There are about 1.7 million Arabs who claim refugee status living in Gaza and the West Bank. They receive aid from UNRWA, the huge organization created by the UN to maintain the refugee population. UNRWA has 27,000 employees, almost all ‘refugees’, and 10,000 of them work at its Gaza headquarters.

UNRWA’s focus on nurturing the refugee population, helping it learn the official Palestinian irredentist ideology and preventing any solution of the refugee problem other than ‘return’ is illustrative of the real reason that there is no functioning Palestinian economy, despite everything that has been poured into it:

The primary goal of the Palestinian leadership, from the Mufti through Arafat and including the present leaders of Fatah and Hamas has never been the welfare of Palestinians. First priority has always been the destruction of Israel and the removal of the Jewish presence from ‘their’ land. And as we’ve seen in the case of the refugees, they have always been prepared to sacrifice their people to advance this goal.

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J Street is anti-Israel and anti-Peace

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

The organization which calls itself “J Street” is billed as “pro-Israel and pro-peace”. It presents itself as an alternative to AIPAC, which it says is dominated by the “far right”. It appears to be very well-funded and has numerous well-known liberal Jews among its supporters.

In fact, J Street’s goals are inimical to the continued existence of the state of Israel. Its supporters either desire the elimination of the Jewish state or do not understand the consequences of accepting its principles.

Here is J Street’s Statement of Principles, with my comments.

We support:

  • Consistent and concerted diplomatic engagement by the United States to achieve Israeli-Arab peace. A negotiated end to the Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts serves both U.S. and Israeli strategic and security interests. Achieving it must be a priority for any future U.S. administration;

“Engagement” is a code word for pressure on Israel to make concrete, irrevocable concessions — giving up territory — in return for unenforceable promises of peace and normal relations. Whenever the US has been “engaged” — after the 1967 and 1973 wars, the Israeli-Egyptian ‘peace’ deal, the 1982 agreement that let Arafat and his terrorists escape Beirut, and of course Oslo — Israel has been forced to give up gains earned in blood in return for promises, both from the US and the Arabs, that were not fulfilled.

  • An enduring relationship between the US and Israel that promotes their common interests. We recognize and support Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, a democratic country that promises equal rights for all its citizens and that has the right to defend itself against external threats;

This paragraph makes two points: Israel is the “homeland of the Jewish people”, but not a Jewish state; and it only promises, but does not provide, equal rights for all of its citizens. In order to understand the importance of the juxtaposition of these statements, we need to consider the demands presently being made by the elite of the Israeli-Arab population: their understanding of ‘equal rights’ essentially calls for the elimination of the Jewish character of the state.

  • The creation of a viable Palestinian state as part of a negotiated two-state solution, based on the 1967 borders with agreed reciprocal land swaps. The future Palestinian state will require unprecedented levels of international economic and political support to succeed, including a resolution of the refugee issue within the new Palestinian state and in current host countries;

For various reasons, including the lack of support among Palestinians for any non-rejectionist leadership, majority support for Hamas, and the military capabilities of the Iranian-funded and armed Hamas, a peaceful Palestinian state simply impossible. A fantasy. If we ignore this and create a state anyway, we will be helping set up a terrorist entity like today’s Gaza strip right next to Israeli population centers.

  • An Israeli-Syrian peace agreement based on the land-for-peace formula, security guarantees, and details outlined in previous negotiations;

Another fantasy. Giving up the Golan heights will drastically reduce Israel’s deterrent against Syrian attack, allow renewed terrorism on what has become a quiet front, allow Hezbollah to grow even stronger. In return, Israel will get less than what she got from Egypt, not even a prolonged cease-fire.

  • A comprehensive regional peace that builds on the Arab Initiative, leading to recognition of Israel by all its neighbors in the Middle East and the creation of a new regional approach to cooperation and security;

The Arab (Saudi) Initiative is a surrender document. It requires Israel to return to the 1967 lines with no exceptions and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes; it calls for a solution of the refugee problem in a way which can only be understood as their return to Israel; and Israel gets nothing until she has entirely met Arab demands. The Arab initiative directly contradicts J Street’s planks calling for land swaps and for refugees to return to the Palestinian state and not to Israel, so one wonders what it’s doing here.

  • An American policy in the Middle East more broadly based on diplomacy, multilateralism and real partnership with the European Union, the Quartet and others. We support dialogue with a broad range of countries and actors, including Iran, over confrontation in order to find solutions to the region’s conflicts.

The European Union and the Quartet members other than the US (Russia, the EU, and the UN) are all quite hostile to Israel. How does involving them help? And what exactly does J Street propose to offer to Iran in order to ‘find a solution’ to Ahmadinejad’s desire to replace US influence in the Middle East with a Shiite Caliphate? Permission to build nuclear weapons?

To advance these goals, we seek to build a broad and inclusive campaign that crosses ethnic and religious lines and in which American Jews play a prominent role.

Yes, it really helps the argument when you can say “See, even the Jews think Israel is intransigent and must be forced to make peace”.

We believe honest discussion of American and Israeli policies is healthy for the U.S., for Israel and for the American Jewish community. We will actively promote debate in the United States that is as open and spirited as it is in Israel.

In other words, Mearsheimer and Walt were right, AIPAC and the Israel Lobby ‘muzzle’ debate about Israel in the US.

In that debate, we will oppose alliances with the religious right or any radical religious ideologues in the name of supporting Israel as well as efforts to demean and fan fears of Islam or of Muslims.

It’s interesting that on the J Street site, there is no mention of any of the real threats faced by Israel from Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran. No mention of the tens of thousands of Syrian and Hezboillah missiles targeting Israel at this moment, no mention of the liklihood of war with Hezbollah and Hamas. What we find instead is an attack on Christian Zionist John Hagee! Does J Street think John Hagee is a greater menace than Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad?

The statement of principles is not in any way pro-Israel or pro-peace. It is a blueprint to force Israel back to the indefensible 1967 borders and to entirely surround her with armed terrorist entities that will continue to build up their military capabilities with Iranian funding; it encourages the radical elements among the Israeli Arabs in their struggle to turn Israel herself into a Palestinian state from within; it promotes the completely unacceptable Arab Initiative; suggests that dialogue is the way to deal with imminent military threats; makes approving noises in the direction of the antisemitic doctrine of Mearsheimer and Walt; and tries to drive a wedge between Israel and the 100+ million evangelicals in the US who want to support her.

The consequence of allowing a Hamas state to be set up in the West Bank and of failing to firmly oppose Iran and her proxies, to weaken Israel and strengthen its enemies cannot possibly be peace, but its opposite.

The primary goal of J Street appears to be to get Israel out of the territories, even though there is no partner which could create a peaceful Palestinian state. Secondarily it opposes the Jewish character of the state. Its domestic goals in the US are to reduce the influence of the Christian right and to keep Jews from making alliances with right-wing forces.

J Street is just another part of the general offensive against support for Israel in the US that has been taking place for the past few years. This one is aimed at support from liberal or uncommitted Jews, just as Jimmy Carter’s book is designed to weaken pro-Israel sentiment among Protestants.

It would be very interesting to learn the sources of funding for this slick group’s disingenuous propaganda.

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Rabbi Saperstein’s USH

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Union for Reform Judaism’s (URJ) Religious Action Center has been a subject of my posts in the past. For example, last December he sent around a solicitation for funds to members of URJ congregations in which he listed the greatest challenges facing us as Supreme Court nominations, civil rights protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people, climate change, the international health care crisis, and finally the Middle East conflict.

Without denying the seriousness of the other ‘challenges’, it seemed strange that a solicitation from a Jewish organization would put the life-and-death struggle of Israel last, and not even mention resurgent worldwide antisemitism. I also felt that his preferred approach to the Israeli-Arab conflict — “U.S. efforts to help craft a two-state solution” — was the worst possible that wasn’t explicitly pro-Arab.

Now Rabbi Saperstein has promulgated his ‘Ten Commandments’ for the use and abuse of religion in politics, by candidates and religious organizations. Most are unexceptionable, like not imperiling a congregation’s nonprofit tax status by endorsing a particular candidate. But here is the one that I found interesting:

Thou shalt not offer an explanation to the electorate about how your religious beliefs shape or alter your views on the issues. “It is all right for candidates to refer to their religious values as having an influence, but candidates should never base a policy position only on religious beliefs. Then it becomes a faith statement.”

What he seems to be saying is that a purely religious belief — or a moral principle that is based on it — is by definition not a legitimate premise in a sound argument. A “faith statement” for Saperstein is something subjective, a matter of taste like “I like spaghetti” which doesn’t necessarily apply to anyone else.

Indeed, although he allows for ‘influence’ I suspect that he would find a candidate’s statement that his Catholic background influenced him to oppose abortion unacceptable; ‘influence’ is probably allowed only in statements like “my religious background influenced me to be honest”.

In other words, for Saperstein, religion is not an acceptable source for the moral principles that guide our reasoning about moral questions, although religious training or belief can help create a person’s character.

But obviously everyone that ever makes moral decisions has such principles. Saperstein obviously has them himself, or he wouldn’t be able to see the need for gay rights, for example. He just doesn’t want them to come from religion.

So where can they come from? I am guessing that the answer is USH: Unexamined Secular Humanism, the moral philosophy actually held by many Reform Jews and liberal Protestants (my wife calls it “the niceness religion”). Here are some principles of USH, chosen at random and by all means not exhaustive:

  • Happiness is good, pain is bad
  • Limiting anyone’s freedom is bad, unless it’s necessary for the overriding social good
  • Every human is of equal value
  • Humans are basically good; conflicts are caused by insufficient knowledge or education

You get the idea. USH is a moral system, a collection of premises that can be the basis of a moral argument. But there are other moral systems — an Orthodox Jew might choose the Shulchan Aruch, for example — and there is nothing especially privileged about USH. But the fact that it is unexamined means that its practitioners often do not understand this, and they can be quite doctrinaire and even self-righteous — like Rabbi Saperstein.

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Catholics, Muslims and tolerance

Monday, May 26th, 2008

“What I like about the Catholic Church is that it is one of the few institutions left that still believes that some propositions are true” — Patterson Brown, c. 1964

Recently I was asked to appear on a show on a Catholic TV station to present the Jewish point of view about the controversial Good Friday Latin prayer adopted by Pope Benedict XVI (I’ve written about it here and here).

What I wanted to say was that I wasn’t bothered at all by the prayer, which asks that God may “illumine their hearts that they might acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Savior of all”.

This is because Pope Paul VI, in a declaration issued in 1965 called Nostra Aetate, made the following points quite clear:

  1. The Church believes that its doctrine is true and universal for all people
  2. Nevertheless, one must be respectful and tolerant of other religions

Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism are mentioned, and antisemitism is categorically singled out for condemnation. Arguments like “the Jews are guilty of the death of Jesus” are specifically refuted.

I do not object to Catholics hoping that I will ultimately see the light, as long as they have stopped inciting pogroms because of my refusal to do so. If it makes them feel better, they should hope.

What I would have said on the TV program was that yes, there is a long history of antisemitism based directly on Church dogma and in many cases incited by officials of the Church, going back to the first century. The stubbornness of Jews in refusing to see the ‘truth’ as propounded by Christianity was an excuse for many massacres, the Inquisition’s burning of ‘judaizing’ converts, and even the pogroms that drove my grandparents out of Czarist Russia.

But in 1965, the Church resigned from the ranks of the antisemites. Maybe it was because of the Holocaust, and one can wish that it had happened years earlier, but in any event it happened. Catholicism did not give up its insistence on the truth of its doctrines, but began to insist that correct belief be accompanied by tolerance.

Now the story — both my personal story and the historical one about antisemitism — gets interesting. Did antisemitism start to die out when the Church dumped it?

No. Actually, there was a resurgence of antisemitism which started in the 1960’s, and which came from an entirely different place. Instead of Christian dogma, it stemmed primarily from the radical anti-Zionism of the Arab nations, abetted by the Left (which took its cue from the Soviets, who had taken the Arab side in the Mideast conflict and who still had plenty of traditional Russian Zhid-hatred in their blood).

Arab and Persian Muslims found support in the Quran and other writings for their antisemitism — Muhammad had several conflicts with Jewish tribes in his conquest of Arabia and wasn’t shy about expressing his feelings. And Islam did not have a Vatican II to distinguish between a doctrinal disagreement and a casus belli. Making things worse, Muslim antisemites adopted the tried and true themes of European Jew-hatred such as the blood libel, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and so forth.

So now you can hear in one place that Zionist, colonialist Jews are sons of apes and pigs who drain the blood of non-Jewish children to make matzah and commit genocide against the Palestinians while undermining the foundations of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

This rejuvenated anti-Jewish incitement now plays exactly the same role as it did for the Nazis, setting the Jewish people apart, blaming them for their own persecution, and developing conditions under which they can be destroyed.

I wanted to contrast the attitude of today’s Church with that of the Islamic fundamentalists of Iran and Hamas. I wanted to say that I would far rather have someone praying for the veil to be removed from my eyes (as an earlier Good Friday prayer said) than the head from my neck.

Unfortunately, the TV producer told me that I was expressly forbidden to use the words ‘Muslim’ or ‘Iran’ on the program, and that the only antisemitism that could be discussed was that of the Catholic Church.

I wasn’t prepared to talk about antisemitism without mentioning the elephant in the living-room, the incitement from the Arab nations and Iran. And I couldn’t talk about the Holocaust and leave out the likelihood of another one within the next two years. So I won’t be on the program.

I think the producer would have preferred for me to say that the new Pope’s prayer was a step backward, because it states that we Jews are incorrect in our beliefs. But I don’t think that the Church ever accepted the radical view that all religions are equally true.

What I would have liked to emphasize was the other part of Nostra Aetate: the part that is clearly not accepted by so many Muslims, the part that says that you must respect and tolerate the religious beliefs of others, even if you think they are wrong.

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Too many Chamberlains, not enough Churchills

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

I am breaking some of my rules by reprinting this. For one thing, it’s much longer than the usual blog post. For another, I mostly try to stay away from articles that are sharply partisan in American politics. But this one is too important to pass up.

The Fall of Lebanon
by Barry Rubin

“If you have tears, prepare to shed them now….
Oh, what a fall was there…
Then I, and you, and all of us fell down.”
–William Shakespeare, “Julius Caesar,” Act 3, Scene 1.

May 21, 2008, is a date — like December 7 (1941) and September 11 (2001) — that should now live in infamy. Yet who will notice, mourn, or act the wiser for it?

On that day, the Beirut spring was buried under the reign of Hizballah.

Speaking on October 5, 1938, after Britain and France effectively turned Czechoslovakia over to Nazi Germany, Winston Churchill said, “What everybody would like to ignore or forget must nevertheless be stated, namely, that we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat….”[1]

In contrast, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch said that the agreement over Lebanon was, “A necessary and positive step.” At least when one sells out a country one should recognize this has happened rather than pretend otherwise. But this is precisely what took place at Munich, when the deal made was proclaimed as a concession that brought peace and resolved Germany’s last territorial demand in the region.

Churchill knew better and his words perfectly suit the situation in Lebanon today:

“The utmost [Western diplomacy] has been able to gain for Czechoslovakia…has been that the German dictator, instead of snatching the victuals from the table, has been content to have them served to him course by course.”

Yes, that’s it exactly. On every point, Hizballah, Iran, and Syria, got all they wanted from Lebanon’s government: its surrender of sovereignty. They have veto power over the government; one-third of the cabinet; election changes to ensure victory in the next balloting; and they will have their candidate installed as president.

The majority side is not giving up but is trying to comfort itself on small mercies. The best arguments it can come up with are that now everyone knows Hizballah is not patriotic, treats other Lebanese as enemies, and cannot seize areas held by Christian and Druze militias. It isn’t much to cheer about.

Nevertheless, as in 1938, a lot of the media is proclaiming it as a victory of some kind, securing peace and stability in Lebanon.

Not so. If Syria murders more Lebanese journalists, judges, or politicians, no one will investigate. No one dare diminish Hizballah’s de facto rule over large parts of the country. No one dare stop weapons pouring over the border from Syria and Iran. In fact, why should they continue to be smuggled in secretly? No one dare interfere if and when Hizballah, under Syrian and Iranian guidance, decide it is time for another war with Israel.

This defeat was not only total, it was totally predictable. Just as Churchill said:

If only Great Britain. France and Italy [today we would add the United States, of course] had pledged themselves two or three years ago to work in association for maintaining peace and collective security, how different might have been our position… But the world and the parliaments and public opinion would have none of that in those days. When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have affected a cure.

Instead there was a lack “of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong…” Actually, though, as Churchill knew when he spoke, these faults were still not corrected. The folly continued.

And so is what comes next? Back to Churchill:

“All is over. Silent, mournful, abandoned, broken, Czechoslovakia recedes into the darkness.” That country suffered because it put its faith in the Western democracies and the League of Nations (now the United Nations). In particular, she was betrayed by France whom the Czechs then, and the Lebanese today, trusted to help them.

The UN Security Council on May 22 endorsed the Lebanon agreement even though it totally contradicted the Council’s own resolution ending the Hizballah-Israel war, thus betraying the commitments made to Israel about stopping arms smuggling, disarming Hizballah, and keeping that group from returning to south Lebanon. The UN’s total reversal of its demands from two years ago — constituting a total victory for Hizballah — did not bring a flicker of shame or even recognition that this in fact had happened.

All this is a victory for terrorism. It is quite true that the Lebanese Shia — like the German minority in Czechoslovakia which Hitler promoted — has genuine grievances and that Hizballah has real support in its own community. But how did it overcome the other communities, the other political forces in Lebanon? Through assassination and bombing albeit done by Syria’s surrogates rather than directly), by intimidation and fear, by demagoguery and war.

Iran and Syria help their allies; the West doesn’t. And so the message was: We can kill you; your friends cannot save you. Look at their indifference! Despair and die.

And here, regarding the future, we can only quote Churchill’s speech extensively:

In future the Czechoslovak State cannot be maintained as an independent entity. I think you will find that in a period of time which may be measured by years, but may be measured only by months, Czechoslovakia will be engulfed in the Nazi regime. Perhaps they may join it in despair or in revenge. At any rate, that story is over and told. But we cannot consider the abandonment and ruin of Czechoslovakia in the light only of what happened only last month. It is the most grievous consequence of what we have done and of what we have left undone in the last five years – five years of futile good intentions, five years of eager search for the line of least resistance…

Lebanon will not disappear as a country on the map, of course — contrary to the Iranian alliance’s intentions toward Israel — but it is now going to be part of the Iranian bloc. This is not only bad for Lebanon itself but also terrifying for other Arab regimes. The Saudis deserve credit for trying to save Lebanon. But what will happen now as the balance of power shifts? They are less inclined to resist and more likely to follow the West’s course and adopt an appeasement policy.

Again, Churchill in 1938:

Do not let us blind ourselves to that. It must now be accepted that all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe will make the best terms they can with the triumphant Nazi power. The system of alliances in Central Europe upon which France has relied for her safety has been swept away, and I can see no means by which it can be reconstituted. The road down the Danube Valley to the Black Sea, the road which leads as far as Turkey, has been opened.

In less than four years, that is where German armies were marching, thankfully a situation far worse than we can expect in the Middle East. Yet the trend toward appeasement and surrender could well be similar. Churchill said:

In fact, if not in form, it seems to me that all those countries of Middle Europe… will, one after another, be drawn into this vast system of power politics–not only power military politics but power economic politics–radiating from Berlin, and I believe this can be achieved quite smoothly and swiftly and will not necessarily entail the firing of a single shot.

His specific example was Yugoslavia whose government within three years was ready to join Germany’s bloc (it was prevented from doing so only by a British-organized coup but was then invaded and overrun by the German army).

Only the names of the countries need be changed to make Churchill’s point apply to the present:

“You will see, day after day, week after week [that]…many of those countries, in fear of the rise of the Nazi power,” will give in. There had been forces “which looked to the Western democracies and loathed the idea of having this arbitrary rule of the totalitarian system thrust upon them, and hoped that a stand would be made.” But they would now be demoralized.

Churchill knew that his country’s leader had good intentions but that wasn’t enough. His analysis of British thinking applies well both to Europe, to President George Bush’s current policy, and very well to the thinking of Senator Barack Obama:

The prime minister desires to see cordial relations between this country and Germany. There is no difficulty at all in having cordial relations between the peoples. Our hearts go out to them. But they have no power. But never will you have friendship with the present German government. You must have diplomatic and correct relations, but there can never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi power, that power which…vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses, as we have seen, with pitiless brutality the threat of murderous force. That power cannot ever be the trusted friend of the British democracy.

Churchill understood that his nation’s enemies took their ideology seriously and that their ambitions and methods were incompatible with his country.

And finally, Churchill understood the trend: things will get worse and would even make it politically incorrect to criticize the enemy:

In a very few years, perhaps in a very few months, we shall be confronted with demands with which we shall no doubt be invited to comply. Those demands may affect the surrender of territory or the surrender of liberty. I foresee and foretell that the policy of submission will carry with it restrictions upon the freedom of speech and debate in Parliament, on public platforms, and discussions in the press, for it will be said–indeed, I hear it said sometimes now — that we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticized by ordinary, common English politicians. Then, with a press under control, in part direct but more potently indirect, with every organ of public opinion doped and chloroformed into acquiescence, we shall be conducted along further stages of our journey.

In short, what could be called “Germanophobia” or seen as war-mongering in resisting German demands and aggression would be… verboten, something often seen in contemporary debates when political correctness trumps democratic society and pimps for dictatorial regimes and totalitarian ideology.

Churchill predicted victory but only if the free countries — and even some not so free whose interests pushed them to oppose the threat — were strong and cooperated:

Do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigor, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.

Wow. Well if you don’t see yet the parallelism with the current time let me continue on my own. Lebanon’s brief period of independence has ended. Lebanon is now incorporated — at least in part and probably more in the future — into the Iranian bloc.

(more…)

John Hagee and the problem of evil

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

Everyone’s all over John Hagee. McCain’s dumped him, the fake Zionists at J Street are congratulating themselves, and even real Zionist Ami Isseroff thinks Hagee’s support is Bad For The Jews.

Here’s part of what Hagee allegedly said that caused all the excitement:

How did [the Holocaust] happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel…

Today Israel is back in the land and they are at Ezekiel 37 and 8. They are physically alive but they’re not spiritually alive. Now how is God going to cause the Jewish people to come SPIRITUALLY alive and say “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, He is God?”

[partial audio of the sermon is here]

There are two supposedly offensive statements here. One is that the Holocaust was ordained by God, and the other is that the Jews are “not spiritually alive”, which is normally quoted as “Hagee said the Jews are spiritually dead” because it sounds more antisemitic.

Let’s look at the first part. Hagee, like many philosophers and theologians before him, is grappling with the problem of evil. One way to express it is to say that the following three statements can’t all be true:

  • There is evil in the world
  • God is all-powerful
  • God is perfectly good

Hagee can’t reject the second and third statements, so he works on the first one. Evil exists, but its consequences are a greater good, in this case a good so all-encompassing — the salvation of humanity — that on balance the evil is wiped out.

This is not the solution that I would choose, but in the context of his end-times theology it’s the right one. In any event it is far from saying that Hitler was doing God’s work, as some have described it, except in the trivial sense that everything that happens ultimately ends up doing God’s work.

The fact that Pastor Hagee thinks as he does should not be a major revelation; anyone who understands the theology behind his brand of Christianity would know this, just as nobody should be surprised that the Pope wants Catholics to pray for the souls of Jews.

The reference to the Jewish people not being spiritually alive most likely (since his explanation does not appear in the audio snippet) means that the second coming will be required to make them so; again, part of his end-times theology and something that probably applies to everyone, or at least everyone who hasn’t accepted Jesus yet.

The J Street folks and Hagee’s other critics probably don’t grapple much with the problem of evil, because they have a far less concrete idea of God than Hagee. But the biggest problem is this: Pastor Hagee and the Pope believe that their religion is universal and objectively true.

Secular and almost-secular people who believe that no religion has factual content — that religions are pragmatic ethical systems with ontological trappings, psychological phenomena, moral crutches, superstition, myths, stories, cultural artifacts, etc. — are infuriated by this point of view, although it’s interesting that they don’t seem to object as much to Islam, which shares this characteristic, as they do to Pastor Hagee’s fundamentalism.

And of course J Street and others are happy to tap into this righteous indignation to embarrass the Republican candidate.

But real religious tolerance would include respect and understanding for those who see their beliefs as true as well as for those who think that religion is in essence bunk, as long as the ‘fundamentalists’ in question don’t try to enforce their point of view by violence.

From my point of view, I far prefer Hagee’s support and Catholic prayers to Hamas’ genocidal ideology. Don’t you?

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Stupid chic

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Terrorist t-shirtMost of you have probably seen this story. A popular retail chain in the US was selling a t-shirt showing a Palestinian child-terrorist holding an AK-47, along with maps of the territories and a PLO flag. Pro-Israeli people complained, the chain stopped selling the shirt.

This is actually the third such controversy for this retailer (you can google around to figure out which one; I don’t want to give the bastards a free ad). They previously were taken to task for selling a kafiya which they sweetly called an ‘anti-war scarf’. And before that, they had a shirt with the words “Everybody loves a Jewish girl” and pictures of dollar signs and shopping bags.

What interested me were some of the reactions.

“All fashion is political in nature. Since most people today aren’t directly involved in politics, fashion is a good way to reach people and raise their awareness about the Israeli occupation,” argued Sami Zeibak, a Palestinian fashion journalist living in Tel Aviv.

“Jewish people should not be offended by this because it is not anti-Jewish and not anti-Israel, it is anti-occupation. — Ha’aretz

Right, Sami, tell it to the relatives of the thousands of victims of Palestinian terrorism before the occupation of 1967. Or to the people getting hit today by Qassams coming from Free Palestinian Non-occupied Hamastan (Gaza).

There is a stylized version of the word “VICTIMIZED” at the bottom of the design. Is it not simply true that some Palestinians and especially Palestinian children are victims of this terrible conflict? I am of the opinion they are. — Rick Klotz, owner of the company that makes the shirts

Arafat t-shirtHmm, that’s good. So the shirt is actually anti-terrorism? It looks more like a propaganda poster to me, and the line through the word ‘victimized’ implies that the child is not victimized. But Rick, how do you spin this one (picture at right)? Yes, those were definitely the good ol’ days, getting paid by the Soviets to destabilize governments and kill people in the name of anti-imperialism.

By the way, Rick’s site also hosts a blog called “The world’s got problems” which could be subtitled “a really sophomoric left-wing look at current events for pre-teens”. ‘Problems’ include cyclones, Bush, Hillary, and the Iraq war, while the writer seems to approve of Barack Obama.

Interestingly, some anti-shirt people are not opposed to them because they are pro-terrorism, but because the people who wear them are not real terrorists. “Posers! They pay $28 for a shirt and think they’re somebody”, wrote one blogger whose link I’ve lost. I agree.

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Will Israel really give up the Golan?

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

Being in California means that interesting events in the Mideast often happen while I’m asleep. For example, this is what I awoke to today:

Hours after the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) announced that Israel and Syria had begun indirect peace talks, the PMO denied Wednesday a statement by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem to the effect that Damascus received commitments for an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights up to the June 4, 1967 border during Turkish-brokered indirect talks.

“As (Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert has said in the past, Syria knows what Israel demands of it and Israel knows what Syria expects it to do,” officials in the PMO said.

“We received commitments for a withdrawal from the Golan to the June 4, 1967 line,” Moallem had told AFP during a visit to Bahrain. “This is not new. It started since Rabin’s pledge [for a pullout] in 1993, and all subsequent Israeli prime ministers abided by it.” — Jerusalem Post

It’s understood that “what Israel demands” is that Syria stop supporting Hezbollah and Hamas, and in some sense move away from Iran.

In any event, Moaellem may be correct. Dennis Ross (The Missing Peace: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004) writes,

To break the stalemate [US negotiator Edward Djerejian] tried to see if Syria would engage on the basis of hypotheticals — e.g., assume you get full withdrawal, how would you respond on peace and security — but this effort too was unavailing. The Syrian negotiators would not budge. [p.100]

But by July of 1992, Rabin felt that the ‘Oslo track’ with the Palestinians was not going to bear fruit, so he turned to the ‘Syrian track’. He approached the American negotiators with the proposal that Israel would ‘withdraw fully’ from the Golan if Syria would agree to a full normalization of relations, satisfactory security arrangements, and a guarantee of Israel’s water rights. [Ross, p.111]

Rabin insisted that this be kept confidential, and the Americans placed it in their ‘pocket’ until such time as an agreement could be made on all the issues at once. That way, neither Israel nor Syria would be seen as making an offer without getting something in return. This became known as the “Syrian pocket”.

Negotiations with Hafez al-Assad continued in an on-and-off manner, mostly over the precise interpretation of ‘full withdrawal’. But the ‘pocket’ did not go away. When negotiations finally broke off in 2000 for various reasons including the ill health of Assad, the differences over full withdrawal measured in the hundreds of meters.

So Moallem believes that the pocket is still operative.

But now is a particularly unlikely time for a Syria-Israel peace treaty, and one would be very dangerous to Israel at this point.

1) The loss of the Golan would put Israel at a strategic disadvantage at a time of great military tension. In addition to its importance in a ground war, many Israeli towns, kibbutzim and moshavim would be placed in range of small arms fire, not to mention mortars and very short-range rockets against which — as we’ve seen in Gaza — there is almost no defense.

Syria has recently undergone a huge military buildup, funded by Iran, especially of its strategic rocket forces. In addition, Hezbollah has just formalized its hold over the Lebanese government, gaining veto power and other concessions. There is now nothing to prevent Hezbollah from deploying wherever it wants and making use of the resources of the Lebanese army in any way that it wishes.

Both Hezbollah and Syria believe that the 2006 war shows that Israel can be beaten — or at least deterred — and both have recently made threatening gestures, including the movement of Syrian troops to border areas. It seems as though Bashar al-Assad sees the present talks with Israel more as the presentation of an ultimatum than as a peace process.

2) There are 33 Israeli settlements on the Golan with about 18,000 residents. This is more than twice the population of the Gaza settlements that were abandoned. Many of the former Gaza residents still have not been resettled, and the costs of the withdrawal — both monetary and social — have been enormous. Any government that tried to withdraw from the Golan would face huge opposition from the populace and even the army.

3) PM Olmert is in serious legal trouble, facing multiple charges of bribery and corruption, and new allegations against him arise every day. He definitely does not have the support of a majority of Israelis and he has zero moral authority, certainly not to give up territory.

4) Israel’s conditions are unenforceable. Has Syria obeyed UN resolution 1701, which forbids weapons shipments to Hezbollah? Why should she be more likely to keep an agreement with Israel, especially since Hezbollah and Lebanon are now more indistinguishable than ever? And is it realistic to expect Syria to cut ties with Iran?

This is not an agreement that Israel can afford to make; indeed it’s not one that the government is even capable of making. It will not happen.

So it’s particularly unfortunate that PM Olmert, for whatever reason, allowed the process to get this far and thereby created an opportunity for Israel’s detractors to cast her as the obstacle to peace in the region when the talks fall apart.

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US may indeed attack Iran — but not for Israel

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

News item:

The White House on Tuesday flatly denied an [Israeli] Army Radio report that claimed US President George W. Bush intends to attack Iran before the end of his term. It said that while the military option had not been taken off the table, the Administration preferred to resolve concerns about Iran’s push for a nuclear weapon “through peaceful diplomatic means.”

Army Radio had quoted a top official in Jerusalem claiming that a senior member in the entourage of President Bush, who concluded a trip to Israel last week, had said in a closed meeting here that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were of the opinion that military action against Iran was called for. — Jerusalem Post

The report went on to say that the success of Hezbollah in tightening its grip on Lebanon was “evidence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s growing influence”.

I tend to believe the original report. A nuclear Iran really is a threat to American interests. The cornerstone of US Mideast policy is Saudi Arabia, which is also the center of Sunni Islam. Iran is challenging the Saudis both in a geopolitical and religious sense, extending its sphere of influence to include Syria and Lebanon, and has the US tied down in Iraq. All this has been accomplished without nuclear weapons; imagine how much worse the situation would be if Iran had a nuclear deterrent and threat.

It is obvious that diplomacy has been ineffective in stopping or even slowing Iran’s progress, primarily because of Iran’s influence on its oil purchasers. However, just because a nation cannot afford to join a diplomatic offensive does not mean that it would not quietly applaud a unilateral US military action, which could be blamed on the supposedly regressive George Bush and Dick Cheney.

There are powerful forces among American policymakers who would oppose military action. But I don’t think they are as strong as the Saudi-aligned faction. So, although I’ve said in the past that US military action against Iran is unlikely, I am not so sure any longer.

If it should come to pass, Ahmadinejad’s threats against Israel will likely be cited as one of the reasons. But don’t kid yourself — if the US really cared about Israel’s security, we wouldn’t be arming Fatah. The real drive for an American attack on Iran is coming from Riyadh.

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Israel talks to Hamas

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Israel has now admitted publicly that it is negotiating with Hamas. The Hebrew phrase for negotiations is masa umatan, probably best translated as “give and take”, in which each side expects to get something in return for giving up something else.

Israel wants to get kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit and wants an end to rocket attacks. Hamas wants a respite from Israeli retaliation every time one of its rockets kills somebody, and freedom to arm and train its troops — they are developing an army, not just a terrorist gang — and to build fortifications, dig tunnels, etc. It also wants an undetermined number of prisoners, including those who have killed Israelis, released. And it would like to forestall an IDF incursion into Gaza.

Israeli officials insist that any truce must also prohibit arms smuggling and training of military personnel in Iran, etc.

There have been other, more informal cease-fire agreements. What generally happens is that the rockets get a return address of Islamic Jihad or some other faction instead of Hamas for a while, and ultimately Hamas finds an Israeli action to use as a pretext to restart official hostilities.

There have been other prisoner exchanges, in which a few Israelis are exchanged for a large number of Arabs. This time the Israeli government has expressly changed the criteria for who can be released to include murderers.

A truce now would be disadvantageous for Israel. Although Gilad Schalit might be returned, Hamas’ demands for a prisoner release — at least as they have been expressed before, including as many as 1,500 prisoners — would be an unacceptable precedent, a statement that murder is permissible, and an invitation to kidnap more Israelis.

The provisions prohibiting arms smuggling and other activities would be unenforceable unless Israel were prepared to assume control of the border between Gaza and Egypt, which could only occur after an incursion to secure this area. Nobody else — not the EU, not NATO, not Egypt, not the PA — is going to risk their own people in order to protect Israel.

Israel is today negotiating from a position of weakness. The proposed truce would be an immediate loss for Israel, and there is no way to enforce longer-term provisions.

A more rational approach would be to first invade Gaza, destroy as much of the Hamas infrastructure — both physical and human — as possible, and retake the area around the Gaza-Egypt border. Then an agreement would have some chance of lasting more than a couple of weeks.

In discussing this, we should not lose sight of the nature of Hamas: a terrorist organization which is frankly genocidal in its aspirations. Those Gazans who do not directly support Hamas and its goals are being held hostage to them. Insofar as there are humanitarian or human rights considerations, the party that should be held to account is Hamas, not Israel.

If the world had an interest in the welfare of the Gaza population, it would act to stop aggression from Hamas and to remove this regime — which violates every principle of civilized behavior — from power. In the absence of such action, Israel has a responsibility to protect her own population.

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The two-state fantasy

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

The two-state solution is a fantasy, or worse, a construction created by people who know very well that it is a non-solution in order to hide their real intentions.

Here’s the fairy tale: Israel and the Palestinians will agree on borders, Israel will withdraw from the Palestinian part, the Palestinians, happy to have a state, will stop terrorism. With an end to the conflict will come prosperity, which will marginalize ‘extremists’. With an end to the occupation, friction between the sides will be reduced, and ultimately normal relations will exist between the two states. Jews and Arabs will live happily ever after.

President Bush and every candidate for the US Presidency claim to accept this. Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas claim to be trying to achieve this. Tony Blair says he is working toward this end. It’s just a matter of ironing out the details.

Hamas is the only honest player in this game. Hamas is quite clear about its goals, the destruction of the state of Israel, the liquidation or expulsion of its Jewish inhabitants, and the unification of Palestine under a fundamentalist Islamic regime, from the river to the sea.

Let’s look at the goals of the various other players, who are less transparent:

Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, the ‘official’ Palestinian Authority (PA) government: They want Israel out of as much territory as possible and they wish to receive as much aid, both in dollars and weapons, as possible. But are their long-term policies consistent with the fantasy?

No, because there will not be an end to the conflict. The PA’s position is that it does not and will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and that roughly 5 million refugee descendants have a ‘right of return’ to Israel. What they are offering is to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank, and a temporarily binational state in what used to be Israel proper, which will soon dissolve into civil war. This is not a question of ironing out details.

Add to this the facts that 1) they do not control the terrorists in their own ranks, 2) aid money is not used to build infrastructure or alleviate poverty, but rather to enrich the leadership and their clans, and 3) they cannot prevent a Hamas takeover as happened in Gaza, and we see that they can’t be the partner envisaged in the two-state fantasy.

Ehud Olmert: The Prime Minister of Israel and his government wish, above all, to stay in office. They know full well that no acceptable agreement can be made with the PA, and that even if there were such an agreement the PA would not be able to live up to it. They know also that Hamas can’t be ignored and would quickly take over the West Bank if the IDF were to withdraw. So they pretend to negotiate and leak hints of progress to mollify the Americans.

The US: The State Department understands that a PA-Israel “peace agreement” would at best damage Israel’s security and at worst lead to war. But it is concerned with American interests, not Israeli ones — ‘Jewish conspiracy’ theorists eat your hearts out — and the American interest is perceived to be to force Israel back to pre-1967 borders, supposedly because this will improve relations with the Arab states. So the US continues to work toward this goal, while studiously ignoring what will happen afterwards. Any agreement that will get Israel out of the West Bank will be fine with the US.

Of course the real American interest is a strong Israel which is the only Middle Eastern state that shares a commitment to democracy and quite possibly the only one that is immune to being taken over tomorrow by Islamic fundamentalists. But years of corruption by Saudi ‘preemptive bribes‘ (and possibly plain old bribes) have done much to push real American interests aside in the halls of the State Department and the CIA.

If a peaceful solution is possible despite at least 100 years of anti-Jewish incitement and hate from the Arab world, 14 years of Arafat-inspired PA ‘education’ for war, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his plans to wipe out Israel by way of Hezbollah, Hamas, and some day nuclear weapons, it can’t come from fantasy.

But nobody seems to want to talk about reality.

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