Archive for October, 2008

BBC lacks context about Hebron

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Criticizing the BBC for lack of context is as easy as the proverbial shooting fish in a barrel (which in reality would probably be not so easy and somewhat dangerous).

For example, here is a long article on the BBC website called “Mixed emotions on Hebron tour” by Heather Sharp. It describes a tour sponsored by the Hebron Jewish community of the historic city where today about 700 Jews and 150,000 Arabs live.

The tour has recently been promoted as a way to create support for the community, which has been demonized in most of the Israeli media. Note that as is common in BBC articles, Ms. Sharp includes a gratuitous remark about “international law”:

Adverts proclaiming “Judea and Samaria [the Jewish name for the West Bank] – the story of every Jew” have recently appeared on billboards, buses and the websites of Israel’s left-leaning newspapers.

Some were immediately defaced with left-wing graffiti, reflecting the strong differences among Israelis over the settlements, which are considered illegal under international law — although Israel disputes this.

And she adds that

The tour explains little of the misery caused by the Israeli restrictions, or the brutal treatment that human rights groups say Palestinians suffer at the hands of some settlers and Israeli troops.

The most important site, of course, is ma’arat hamachpela, the tomb of the Patriarchs, where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah are said to be buried (Rachel’s tomb is near Bethlehem). The writer seems to be put off by the sight of Jews praying, but she toughs it out in order to remind us of Baruch Goldstein:

Entering the Tomb of the Patriarchs as hundreds of religious Jews rock back and forth in prayer, too, is a mixed experience for the secular visitors.

Access to the site is controlled by the Israeli military. The complex is divided into two parts, Muslim and Jewish, with separate entrances. Jews can enter the Muslim side for 10 days a year, and vice versa.

But for the most part, the two sides have been sealed off from each other, a legacy of the massacre by a Jewish extremist [Goldstein] of 29 Palestinians there in 1994.

The overall impression one gets is that the Jews of Hebron are simply perverse, living where they are not wanted, and that they get their jollies by brutally oppressing Palestinians.

The article does not mention any of the following:

There was a thriving Jewish community in Hebron from biblical times until 1929 when local Arabs, incited by the Arab leadership including the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, mounted a pogrom against them, killing at least 65, raping and maiming many others, making Hebron 100% Jew-free. Some returned but were forced out by more Arab violence in 1936. Since Hebron was in the territory occupied — against “international law” for whatever that is worth — by Jordan in 1948, Jews were not permitted to live there until 1967.

In Hebron in 2001 a Palestinian sniper shot and killed 10-month old Shalhevet Pas in her father’s arms. The atrocity was barely noticed by the international media, unlike the non-murder of Muhammad al-Dura.

Finally,

Col. Dror WeinbergNov 15, 2002 – Col. Dror Weinberg, 38, of Jerusalem’s Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, was one of 12 people killed — nine soldiers and three civilians from the Kiryat Arba emergency response team — and 15 wounded in Hebron when Palestinian terrorists opened fire and threw grenades at a group of Jewish worshipers and their guards as they were walking home from Sabbath Eve prayers at the Cave of the Patriarchs…

Col. Dror Weinberg was buried in the Kfar Sava Military Cemetery. He is survived by his pregnant wife, Hadassah, and five children: a son Yoav, 14, daughter Yael, 11, and sons Eitan, eight, Yishai, five, and Uri, three. Hadassah gave birth to a baby boy in April: “This is the special gift Dror has left me,” she said. — Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

A personal note — I had the honor of meeting Col. Weinberg in 1999 at a ceremony marking the completion of training for my son’s  group in the maglan [special paratroop] unit, which Weinberg commanded. He said something about my coming all the way from America to watch him stick a pin on my son’s shirt (which was not properly tucked in); it was the least I could do, I said, considering what the young men were facing.

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Middle East Studies: a surreal weekend

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

I attended the California State University Fresno [CSUF] “Conference on Middle East Studies” this weekend. I can only hit some high and low spots. Where to begin?

With the good parts: One of the first papers presented was by Neda Maghbouleh, a Ph.D student at UC Santa Barbara, about the effect of Iranian popular music of the  ’70’s and ’80’s on first and second generation Iranian-Americans. It was like discovering a parallel universe, inhabited by Googoosh, among others. Ms. Maghbouleh obviously enjoyed her research a great deal and showed it.

There were a few other bright spots, like when Mary Husain, who was pilloried here (“Scholarship or Rubbish?“) for publishing a striking example of postmodernist academic boondoggling at its worst, actually mentioned this site as an example of “The post-9/11 Assault on Higher Education and Academic Freedom”! “I don’t even know who these people are”, she wailed.

Ms. Husain, please know that 1) I chose to focus “Scholarship or Rubbish?” on you rather than your co-author because you are a member of the CSUF Middle East Studies Program [MESP] and he is not, and not because of your Muslim-sounding name; 2) I chose to write about you rather than a non-Muslim member of your department because of the availability and staggering badness of your published article; and 3) I fail to see how my critique limits academic freedom. I am however, guilty as charged of “stealing” your photo from the CSUF academic website.

From here on, though, things went rapidly downhill. My original fear that the MESP would become a platform for anti-Israel political agitation because the initiators, Dr. Vida Samiian and Dr. Sasan Fayazmanesh have expressed extreme anti-Israel positions in the past, appears to have been justified.

Dr. Lawrence Davidson of West Chester University (Pennsylvania) presented two papers. The first, on “forced migration” of Palestinians was a 20-minute polemical recitation of charges against Israel, including “purposeful impovershment” of the Palestinians, “equivalent to genocide” by such means as the “apartheid wall” because “Israel covets Palestinian land”. The Palestinians live in constant insecurity, Davidson said, from incursions, air attacks, etc. Israel claims that this is in self-defense, but in fact “over the past 60 years Israeli policy has been motivated by racism”, a desire to have all the land “Palestinian-rien”.

Davidson presented ‘facts’ and figures more rapidly than I could write, but I would be interested in knowing how he documents such highly dubious statements as “Israel expropriated 50% of the land in the West Bank” and “40% of Israelis favor ‘transfer’ of Palestinians”. This was anything but a scholarly paper; it was at best a political speech, and at worst — incitement of hatred.

Davidson gave an interesting answer when asked how he could discuss all of the above without even mentioning Palestinian terrorism, or decisions such as the rejection of partition, etc.  Israel is the dominant power, he said, and therefore controls everything that happens. The Palestinians are by definition powerless, so their ‘resistance’ is simply a reaction to Israeli oppression. Hence, surprisingly enough, violent actions on both sides are Israel’s fault. This argument needs no further refutation!

He was also asked how he could leave out of the equation the historical backing of extremists by the Arab nations, and, recently, the Iranian proxy war against Israel being prosecuted by Hamas and Hezbollah.  He responded that Israel was offensively powerful enough to counter any imaginable military threat — ignoring tiny Israel’s unique home-front vulnerability. He further suggested that Israel should simply ‘take a chance’ and agree to the Saudi initiative — which I think I have shown is equivalent to national suicide for the Jewish state.

Davidson presented a second paper, this one on teaching about the Middle East. He believes that students arrive with an anti-Muslim and pro-Israel orientation which is created by overwhelming bias in the American media. I suppose he has had students who only watch Fox News, but I hardly think that NPR, CNN, the NY Times, Reuters, the AP, Pacifica Radio, etc. can be called pro-Zionist!

Nevertheless, he faces the problem of how to break down the students’ ’emotional’ cleavage to Zionism and get them to understand the Palestinian viewpoint.  One of his most effective techniques is to have the students read various sources, including pro-Palestinian material written by Israelis — he even mentioned renegade Israeli academic Ilan Pappé as a good choice! He also likes the early Benny Morris — with its doctored quotations from Ben-Gurion and other Zionists.

The class then takes the form of a discussion, in which he presents his own position, all the while reassuring the students that disagreement will not affect their grades. Some students have difficulty overwhelming their ’emotional’ attachment to Zionism, and those, he admits, often drop his class. The possibility that there might be a student who — though employing logical thinking and careful research — might nevertheless fail to agree with him was not mentioned.

Davidson was less a scholar than a polemicist and less a teacher than an indoctrinator. I can’t imagine that such a person could have held an academic position when I was in school, but I suppose that was a long time ago.

One of the sessions that I most looked forward to was one on “What the future has in store?” This was to be, unfortunately, my last, as you will see.

Dr. Eric Hooglund blamed Israel and settlements for everything. Why bother to repeat it yet again? He also did not mention terrorism or Hamas, but he claimed that the failure of Camp David, the Roadmap and the Annapolis negotiations to lead to peace were all because of Israel insistence on expanding settlements and building new ones.

He also said that friends and former students of his in the US State Department felt that US policy would change significantly — I understood him to mean in the direction of the Palestinians — if Barack Obama is elected.

Dr. Sasan Fayazmanesh spoke about American policy toward Iran, as determined by the power relationships between various groups in the US administration (and the administration to come). At one point I actually began to empathize with him. After all, he thinks that American policy is to wage war against his homeland — if not by armies, then by economics; and I think that American policy may lead to the destruction of Israel by its enemies. We both see little difference between the parties in this respect.

However, all good things come to an end. In this case someone asked a question about Ahmadinejad’s famous remark that is often translated “Israel will be wiped off the face of the earth”.  Fayazmanesh said that the translation was incorrect — a not unreasonable point, although it is quite clear from Ahmadinejad’s support of Hezbollah and Hamas, his financing of the Syrian missile buildup, etc., that he is at least aiming for what might be called ‘regime change’ in Israel, from Jews to Arabs.

“You see, he said, Ahmadinejad is not anti-Semitic.” And he displayed a Powerpoint presentation entitled “Ahmadinijad: is he an anti-Semite?”

The first slide showed the Iranian President sitting down at a table — perhaps at the notorious Holocaust denial conference of 2006 — with representatives of a radical Neturei Karta faction, a tiny sect — possibly less than one hundred members — of the favorite Jews of every anti-Semite, previously paid to perform by Yasser Arafat and now most likely by Ahmadinejad.

“You see,” said Fayazmanesh, “he cannot be an anti-Semite. These are Jews. They are his friends.”

All of us have character weaknesses and one of mine is that the level of crap that sets me off is not all that high. I stood up, and said quite loudly, and maybe without making enough sense: what about the Holocaust denial conference? What about the Holocaust denial conference? Then either I walked out, was asked to leave, or both. Really, it was the cumulative effect of some of the other speakers — particularly, but not exclusively, Davidson — with the surrealism provided by Neturei Karta taken seriously that did me in.

Several times an Israeli participant in the conference asked something like “Look, this is supposed to be an academic meeting, why is only one point of view presented?” The response from one moderator was that constant discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was — his word — “tedious”.  Apparently anti-Israel rants by Lawrence Davidson, Eric Hooglund and others were not “tedious” — only attempts to respond from the audience were.

Update [23 Oct. 1509 PDT]: Upon rereading my notes, I realize that I had wrongly attributed the statement about the State Department sources saying that Obama would lead to ‘big changes’ to Sasan Fayazmanesh. It was actually made by Eric Hooglund.

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The Fashla of 1993

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

The fashla

The Fashla [great failure or mistake] of 1993

Some commentators have argued that the worst single policy mistake that Israel has made since the founding of the state was the 1993 decision to recognize Yasser Arafat’s PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and to bring Arafat back from Tunisian exile to head the newly formed Palestinian Authority.

The result was that any moderate forces that existed among the Palestinians were marginalized, driven out, or killed, and a system of indoctrination was developed including schools, mosques, media, children’s camps, etc. designed to do one thing: teach Palestinians — especially young ones — that the goal of destroying Israel and replacing it with an Arab state was achievable and worthy of the ultimate sacrifice.

Meanwhile, while Israel began a program of ‘educating for peace’ to try to get suspicious Israelis to accept the new ‘reality’ that the conflict with the Palestinians — and perhaps even the whole of the Arab world — was coming to an end, that a ‘new Middle East’ was in the offing, Arafat ramped up terrorism, using arms and money supplied by the West in order to ‘fight terrorism’ (as someone said, this was like paying Kellogg’s to fight cornflakes) to create a private army.

It all blew up (pun intended) in 2000, when Arafat rejected the Camp David/Taba offers of a state and chose war instead.

Caroline Glick has written an absolutely masterful paper (“Israel and the Palestinians: Ending the Stalemate“) in which she argues that what happened in 1993 was a “paradigm shift” in the understanding of the conflict by the US and Israel:

Prior to 1993, both Israeli and U.S. policies were based on the view that the root of the conflict was the Arab world’s rejection of Israel’s right to exist. That view was codified in United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which asserted that two principles were to form the basis of any “just and lasting peace in the Middle East.” The first was an Israeli withdrawal from some of the territory taken over by the Israel Defense Forces during the June 1967 Six-Day War. The second was that the Arab states must accept Israel’s right to exist…

Since Israel has consistently demonstrated its readiness to make territorial compromises for a lasting peace with its neighbors, it was this second condition that formed the foundation of both U.S. and Israeli policies towards the Palestinians specifically, and the Arab world generally, from the end of the Six-Day War until the onset of Israel’s peace process with the PLO in 1993.

After 1993, however, both the US and Israel adopted the point of view common to the Arabs, the EU, the UN and Russia [Glick says “Soviet Union”, but of course after 1991 there was no USSR] that the root of the conflict was not Arab rejectionism but Israeli occupation of the territories captured in 1967:

…they argued that the Arab world generally, and the Palestinian Arabs specifically, could not be expected to accept Israel’s right to exist until the military outcome of the Six-Day War was entirely reversed. In this latter view, it was Israel, not the Arabs, which bore responsibility for the intractable nature of the conflict. And it was Israel, not the Arabs, which would have to amend its policies if peace were to be achieved.

By accepting the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian Arabs in 1993, both Israel and the U.S. essentially adopted this latter view of the nature of the conflict. A terrorist organization founded in 1964 with the goal of eliminating Israel altogether, the PLO represented the most extreme assertion of Israeli responsibility for the Arab world’s refusal to accept its existence. Indeed, eternalizing that refusal was its raison d’être.

Since then the US has moved farther and farther in this direction. Glick points out that the Bush Administration in 2002 was the first American administration to call for the creation of a Palestinian state as a goal of the ‘peace process’. At that time President Bush linked the creation of the state to an end to terrorism, and the road map of 2003 made this part of the first stage, before the establishment of a state. Glick writes,

In November 2007, however, the Bush administration broke with that view. Its new policy is founded on the belief that Israel and the Palestinian Authority must sign an agreement spelling out the borders and sovereign rights of the sought-for State of Palestine even before the Palestinian Authority fights—let alone defeats—the terror forces operating within its territory in Judea, Samaria and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made this point clearly in a press briefing on November 4, 2007. In her words: “The real breakthrough, it was actually a few months ago now, is that for a long time, if you remember, the argument was you couldn’t talk about the Palestinian state or core issues, which was in phase three [of the road map], until you had completed phase one [requiring the Palestinian Authority to fight terrorism], which got us into an extended kind of circular problem for a long time about phase one. Well… now we’ve broken through and they are, indeed, talking about… what’s in phase three, which is the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

In other words, “Damn the [terrorism], full speed ahead [to a state]”.

But, as Glick goes on to show, the Palestinians — of course Hamas, but also the ‘moderate’ Fatah — which is after all the Fatah of Yasser Arafat — have never wanted statehood alongside Israel. The goal has always been to “end the occupation” — the Jewish occupation of the land that began in 1948, and indeed, long before that:

This view was evident in Arafat’s rejection of Barak’s offer at Camp David in 2000. While Arafat never made a counteroffer, he gave three justifications for walking away from an offer that would enable the establishment of a Palestinian state. First, Arafat rejected Barak’s argument that the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria, Gaza and Jerusalem would end the Palestinian conflict with Israel.

Second, Arafat rejected the Israeli position that the immigration to Israel of Palestinian Arabs who left Israel during the 1948-49 war and their descendants would be limited to family reunification. In Arafat’s words, “the right of return [of the former Arab residents and their descendants to Israel] is sacred and its sanctity is not less than that [assigned to] the holy places [in Jerusalem].”

By couching Palestinian rejection of the Israeli offer in such terms, Arafat made clear that the Palestinian demands on Israel are not limited, and so amenable to compromise and conciliation. Rather they are unlimited, and impossible to appease. Here it should be noted that there are no Palestinian leaders who are willing to compromise on the demand that millions of foreign-born Arabs be allowed unfettered immigration to Israel. Moreover, the Palestinians are fully cognizant of the fact that such a move will destroy Israel by overwhelming its Jewish majority. Indeed, Fatah is no different from Hamas or Islamic Jihad—or Iran, for that matter—in its refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

Finally, Arafat explained that he refused Israel’s offer of statehood because the Palestinian conflict with Israel is not simply a nationalist quest for Palestinian statehood, but an Islamic religious struggle

This last was a new and somewhat hypocritical maneuver for Arafat, who had always been a secular communist-style radical. But ever skilled at determining wind direction, he realized that the growing power of Islamism (and the loss of a communist sponsor in the Soviet Union) would have to be taken into account. But one thing has never changed from the days of the Nazi Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini through Arafat and now Abbas:

Since the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, far clearer than the Palestinian Arab desire for statehood has been the Palestinian Arab rejection of Jewish statehood. Championing Palestinian Arab statehood has never been the explicit policy of either the Palestinians or the rest of the Arab world. Rather, rejecting the right of the Jewish nation to sovereignty in the land of Israel has been the consistent policy of the Palestinian Arab leadership as well as the general Arab leadership since 1917, and most pronouncedly since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

Glick thinks, as do I, that the US and Israel took a seriously wrong turn in 1993, a turn based on a misunderstanding of Palestinian goals and intentions, wishful thinking, and projection of Western ideas on Arab peoples who do not share them. And possibly there is more to it than just misunderstandings. In the US there is an alignment of pro-Arab forces in the State Department with oil interests and Saudi Arabia who would be happy to see Israel replaced with a Palestinian Arab state. And in Israel there are those whose ideology has driven them to take positions that are counter to their own continued existence.

Glick provides a detailed prescription for the changes needed to undo the fashla [great failure or mistake] of 1993. I suggest that in the US, we can begin by understanding that the problem is not that there is no Palestinian state — but rather that the Arabs, including the Palestinians, do not want there to be a Jewish state.

Both American presidential candidates have pledged to work for a “two-state solution”. This is putting the cart several miles ahead of the horse. Our policy should make any Israeli withdrawals contingent — as UN resolution 242 states — on real recognition of Israel’s right to exist, expressed in part by an end to the support of terrorism by Arab nations, Iran and the Palestinian Authority alike.

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Why I still can’t make up my mind

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

Unlike most of the forty-seven gazillion people who write blogs on political subjects, I have not expressed an opinion on the US presidential race. This is partly because I wanted my blog to be different, partisan in its support for Israel while neutral about American politics. And it is partly because I haven’t completely made up my mind.

Unfortunately “a plague on both your houses” is not constructive when one lives in the country that the houses in question want to control, and when one cares strongly about another country whose fate is almost entirely dependent upon the actions of the first.

I am not going to endorse a candidate today (I can hear campaign managers sighing in relief), but I want to mention a couple of things that will weigh heavily on my decision.

The first is John McCain’s shockingly irresponsible decision to choose  Sarah Palin as his running mate. I understand the calculations that led to the choice, whether they were made by the candidate or by his advisors. But this is not a game that will be over on November 4. It is just not conscionable to choose as deputy someone so totally unqualified, someone so far from qualified that if she should become President the best that we could hope for would be that her actions would actually be determined by shadowy hands in the background, and that these hands would be competent and benign.

Now to Barack Obama. My main problem is his policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When Obama visited Israel in July, he said that he would work hard to bring about a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians “starting from the minute I’m sworn into office”.

David Horovitz of the Jerusalem Post interviewed Obama at that time; you should read the whole ineterview, but here are a few things he said:

Horovitz: You’ve said on this trip that you want to work for an Israeli-Palestinian accommodation from the minute you’re sworn in, so let me ask you about the thesis that there is no prospect of Palestinian moderation prevailing and enabling a peace process to really move forward until Iran’s nuclear drive has been thwarted – that so long as the Teheran-backed extremists of Hamas and so on feel that they are in the ascendant, the moderates can’t prevail and that the whole region is now in this kind of holding mode.

Obama: I think there is no doubt that there is a connection between Iran’s strengthening over the last couple of years, partly because some strategic errors have been made on the part of the West. And [the same goes for] the increasing boldness of Hizbullah and Hamas. But I don’t think that’s the only factor and criterion in the lack of progress.

Hamas’s victory in the [Palestinian Authority] election can partly be traced to a sense of frustration among the Palestinian people over how Fatah, over a relatively lengthy period of time, had failed to deliver basic services. I get a strong impression that [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas and [Prime Minister Salaam] Fayad are doing everything they can to address some of those systemic failures by the Palestinian Authority. The failures of Hamas in Gaza to deliver an improved quality of life for their people give pause to the Palestinians to think that pursuing that approach automatically assures greater benefits.

Here Obama displays his complete failure to grasp who Fatah is and what its goals are — a group dedicated to violently replacing Israel with an Arab state. He shows that he does not understand the real motivators of Palestinian politics — clan loyalties, a tendency to choose whichever faction is most aggressive in the struggle against Israel, and gangs of young men with guns. And he takes Abbas and Fayad seriously as Palestinian leaders, when the only Palestinians who agree with him are those who are on the (US financed) payroll.

Horovitz: The current Israeli prime minister told me in an interview a few months ago that the great advantage of the Bush administration on that issue was that they looked at Israel on the basis of “67-plus” – that their starting point was that maybe Israel can expect or deserve support for a slightly larger sovereign presence than the pre-1967 Israel. Do you think of Israel in its final-status incarnation on the basis of “67-plus”?

Obama: Look, I think that both sides on this equation are going to have to make some calculations. Israel may seek “67-plus” and justify it in terms of the buffer that they need for security purposes. They’ve got to consider whether getting that buffer is worth the antagonism of the other party.

The Palestinians are going to have to make a calculation: Are we going to fight for every inch of that ’67 border or, given the fact that 40 years have now passed, and new realities have taken place on the ground, do we take a deal that may not perfectly align with the ’67 boundaries?

My sense is that both sides recognize that there’s going to have to be some give. The question from my perspective is can the parties move beyond a rigid, formulaic or ideological approach and take a practical approach that looks at the larger picture and says, “What’s going to be the best way for us to achieve security and peace?”

Let’s understand what this implies. Obama says that he will work very hard to force Israel — there is no other way that any rational Israeli government could be made to accept this after the lessons learned from the withdrawal from Gaza — to leave most of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Leave aside the fact that the Palestinian claims are complete nonsense: the pre-67 borders are simply the cease-fire lines of 1948, when Jordan illegally seized the eastern part of the Mandate and held it for 19 years — during which time nobody called it “occupied Palestinian territory”. Let’s ask, with Obama, how best to achieve security and peace.

Then consider that today only the presence of the IDF prevents Hamas from taking over the West Bank and turning it into a base of Iranian-sponsored terrorist activity against Israel — just as happened in Gaza. Does Obama think that Fatah could or would — regardless of the amount of American weapons it has — prevent this? Does Obama plan to send US soldiers to occupy the West Bank in place of the IDF?

It’s my opinion that the worst thing that the US can do for the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace is to promote an agreement between Israel and the PA — at least unless there were a popular Palestinian leadership that actually wants peace with a Jewish state. But this is certainly not the case today. Today the result would be Iranian proxy armies to the north, east, and southwest of Israel.

The US has done great damage to Israel and the cause of peace by supporting the Oslo process, by forcing Israel to make concessions at Camp David and Taba which are now being treated as starting points, by pushing for Palestinian elections which Hamas won, by arming and funding Fatah, etc. Barack Obama promises to keep up the tradition.

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The global meltdown and its consequences for Israel

Saturday, October 11th, 2008

Freedman is worried about Israel, and so am I. And I’m also worried about America — about the effect of the combination of an economic crunch with the highly polarized state of our society, as exemplified by the (so far) verbal extremism of some partisans of our presidential candidates. The anti-Semitism that has been reported is just a symptom that some of the rules, written and unwritten, that have kept our politics relatively civilized in recent years may be breaking down.

By Shalom Freedman

We have entered a period of financial and possibly political turbulence which presents great dangers for Israel and the Jewish people. The global financial bust has its center in the United States, and there there has been a collapse of the investment and credit system the like of which has not been seen before. But the decline in financial markets is global and has hit also the Islamic and Arab worlds. Their sovereign funds are heavily invested in the stock markets of the world. Along with this there has been a steep decline in the price of energy meaning the revenues of Iran and Russia are going to precipitously decline. This is potentially disastrous for  regimes which are likely dependent on the export of this one product for their political life.

Political instability often follows major economic crises. The dangers for Israel are manifold. On the one hand the one tool often used by non-democratic regimes is the shifting of focus from the internal to the external. As the Iranians already are committed to exporting their revolution, and as a catastrophic Messianic scenario guides the thought of their President Ahmadinejad, there is a great possibility they would turn to the distraction of violence. Their surrogates, certainly Hezbollah and also Hamas can open a war with Israel at any second. And their close ally Syria might be there in the bargain.

Another danger for Israel relates to the stability of the two regimes it has some kind of working relationship with, Jordan and especially Egypt. Here it should be noted that the world wide economic decline will hit the poorest societies the hardest.

The danger of war for Israel comes at an especially unfortunate time. Because of the economic crisis the US will be even more eager than it is now to pull its troops out of Iraq. It will be extremely reluctant to intervene anywhere.

Russia, which suffers from demographic and health problems of disastrous proportions, after its heady boon and great wealth spurt with the energy price spike, also faces a period of economic turbulence. However, it refuses to yield on its global and especially Middle East ambitions, has been supplying weaponry to Syria and would presumbably back it in any future confrontation.

Israel does not now have a strong and competent leader in place. Such a leader can only come with new elections which the Kadima party and Labor along with the always buyable Shas will probably prevent.  Tzipi Livni has no credentials or experience which suggest that she would wisely confront war or any other major crisis.

In the United States there has been — at the margins — an increase in anti-Semitism related to the financial collapse. It is doubtful that anti-Semitism will become an accepted political position in the United States. Should that happen that would mean the end of the American system as we have known it. But what is likely to come now is an American administration much more internally focused, much more concerned with trying to deal with the economic, health, and infrastructure problems which are so vast in America. There will be a shift away from military spending, and a weaker America globally.

No one can know for certain what will happen, and all that has written here may prove to be an illusion. But all the signs say that we are entering a period of very great danger for Israel and the Jewish people, and in the longer term for Democracy and human freedom, globally.

Shalom Freedman is a writer living in Jerusalem. He has published eight books on Jewish and philosophical subjects, and is the author of countless articles, book reviews, etc.

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