Archive for June, 2009

How to talk about extremism

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Talking about Muslim extremism is difficult. Any criticism of Islam or even radical Islamism is considered Islamophobic and gets the speaker labeled as a bigot.

So the non-Muslim world seems to be divided between those who will not say anything negative at all against any form of Islam — the US Homeland Security officials who have banned the word ‘jihad’, for example — and those, like Geert Wilders who can deal with being called racists or ‘Islamophobes’. The latter, like Wilders, often end up associating with real racists, because they are among the few  publicly opposing Islamic extremism.

I’ve found it hard to discuss these issues myself, particularly with people who have been educated since the civil rights movement of the 1960’s (that’s the majority these days). The taboo against anything perceived as racism is huge in America, which I think has been traumatized by coming to understand the true dimensions of the injustice committed against African-Americans from its beginning until just recently. Insofar as consciousness of racist attitudes reduces racist behavior, this is a good thing, but the taboo limits discourse about any inherent differences between members of ethnic, racial or gender groups. Just ask Lawrence Summers.

One of the taboos is that ‘profiling’ is forbidden. An example is the recent case of four Muslims in Newburgh NY who planned and tried to carry out attacks on Jewish institutions and military installations. They were arrested as a result of information provided by undercover FBI informants in their mosque, a practice which has prompted complaints by some Muslims.

One thing which is not productive is trying to explain violent extremism by what is written in the Quran, as Wilders does in his controversial film, Fitna. If you want to understand why, Google ‘Talmud’ and see what antisemites do with passages taken out of context. Perhaps the Quran encourages violence, perhaps not. And there are cultural factors, particularly in Arab culture, which come into play as well.

On the other hand, is it reasonable to try to talk about terrorism in the world today without mentioning Islam, or without using the word ‘jihad’?

A friend, who knows much more about Islam than I, some years ago said this: don’t look for answers in the Quran — look at what Muslims do.

In that connection, here’s a picture from the local media of a sign held up by a participant in a demonstration here against the war in Gaza last December.

Sign at Gaza War demonstration, Fresno (courtesy KMPH TV Ch. 26)

Sign at Gaza War demonstration, Fresno (courtesy KMPH TV Ch. 26)

The young man holding the sign was interviewed by the TV reporter who asked “do you really mean that?”

“Yes,” he said. “Death to Israel. I really mean that.”

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Zionism is not the problem

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Philip Weiss hates Israel like nobody’s business. His blog is a blend of vitriol against Israel, sarcasm directed at Zionists, and history and current events filtered through Arab fantasies.  To argue with someone, you need a common point of reference, something you both agree on, as a starting point; and Weiss and I live in such different  universes that I don’t know where to start.

But let’s take this: “Rethinking Zionism“, in the Huffington Post this January. Weiss compares ‘post-Zionism’ with anti-Zionism and comes down on the anti side:

My feelings are not neutral about Zionism; I don’t like it. As a Jew [watch out! — ed.] , I think about it a lot and there is nothing I can really feel positive about outside of the Jewish pride and its historical significance of it and its visionary component. All these elements have lost their value: Zionism privileges Jews and justifies oppression, and this appalls me. Saying I’m anti-Zionist is a sincere expression of my minority-respecting worldview…

…anti-Zionism is an idealistic Jewish tradition. In fact, it draws on the same visionary and If-you-dream-it feeling that Zionism did 100 years ago, before the militants ruined it, and engages the same young restless sensibilities and liberationist feeling as Zionism did by imagining Israel as a state of its citizens, not a Jewish state. We anti-Zionists can say with honor that anti-Zionists like Rabbi Elmer Berger identified the problems with Zionism 60 years ago, accurately when he said that Zionism meant contempt for the Arab population, dependence on a backroom lobby in the United States, and the introduction of dual loyalty into American Jewish life. All true.

Of course some nations, like the US, are very definitely ‘states of their citizens’, but by no means all are. I wonder why Weiss is not writing about the large number of UN member nations which also are nation-states of a particular people. I don’t just mean Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, but Japan, for example, whose constitution begins with the words “We, the Japanese people”, or Armenia:

The Armenian People,
Recognizing as a basis the fundamental principles of Armenian statehood and the national aspirations engraved in the Declaration of Independence of Armenia,
Having fulfilled the sacred message of its freedom-loving ancestors for the restoration of the sovereign state,
Committed to the strengthening and prosperity of the fatherland…

Israel is a state founded by and for the Jewish people — not practitioners of Judaism, but Jews secular and observant.  This is the essence of Zionism. The state is also committed to civil equality for all of its citizens, Jewish and Arab: equality before the law, in education, opportunity, benefits, etc. and Zionism implies no contempt for Arabs or non-Jews.

At this point Weiss and friends are jumping up and down shouting that it’s not true, both Arab citizens and residents of the territories are discriminated against, oppressed, killed, walled up, etc.

Well, yes, to some extent things are not as they should be.  Why is this?

Maybe it has something to do with the state of war that’s existed between Israel and its neighbors — including the Palestinian Arabs — from even before Israel was a state?

If this state of war had not existed, would it not be likely that the relationship between Jews and Arabs, both within and outside of Israel, would be greatly different? If there hadn’t been countless suicide bombings, Qassam rockets, exploding buses, murdered Olympic athletes, etc.? If there hadn’t been a ‘second intifada’ in which more than a thousand Jews were murdered, immediately after the Palestinians were offered a state?

Even given this history of endless war — which ultimately stems from Arab racism that does not abide Jews between the river and the sea — can we doubt that Israel would, tomorrow, willingly undergo yet another partition to create the 23rd Arab state in the Middle East if it thought that it could do so without empowering the truly murderous Hamas to kill even more Jews?

Weiss would say this is the “same tired old hasbara,” but the fact is that — despite Arafat’s lies — Barak and Clinton did make a good offer in 2000, and Israeli families were dragged by their own soldiers out of Gaza settlements in 2005.

The point is, the problem is not Zionism. The problem is not that there is a state of the Jewish people, like there are 22 states of Arab peoples and I don’t know how many states throughout the world that are defined in nationalistic terms (some even, unlike Israel, with established religions).

The problem is that even today, the Arab world and especially the Palestinian Arabs simply reject the idea of a Jewish state. And this is complicated by the fact — something Weiss et al never talk about — that they are backed today by Iran, which has a powerful ‘foreign legion’ in Lebanon with tens of thousands of missiles aimed at Israel, and which will soon have nuclear weapons.

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US State Department agrees with Hamas

Monday, June 8th, 2009

News item:

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama extended a waiver delaying the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

U.S. presidents have routinely waived the 1995 law every six months, citing national security. U.S. diplomats fear that such a move would stir anti-American feelings in the Muslim world and torpedo Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Obama extended the waiver for the first time in his presidency on Friday, a day after he delivered an appeal to the Muslim world to work together with the United States to advance peace and cooperation.

I have to write about this every six months, because every time it happens I’m furious all over again.

In case anybody doesn’t know, the Knesset, the seat of Israel’s government, has been located in Jerusalem since 1950. The first Knesset met in Tel Aviv on February 14, 1949 and one of the first orders of business was to move it to Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people.

Yes, that’s correct: the Knesset is located in West Jerusalem, “Israel proper”, not land conquered in 1967. So why does the US refuse to put its embassy there?

Take a deep breath:

West Jerusalem was not included as part of the Jewish state in the partition resolution of 1947 — all of Jerusalem was supposed to be under UN control. But when the armistice agreements were signed in April 1949, Jerusalem was divided between the new state of Israel and Jordan and the UN zone had evaporated. Nevertheless, in December 1949, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for Jerusalem to be a corpus separatum administered by the UN as in the original resolution, despite opposition from Israel, Jordan and the US.

The Arabists of the State Department, however, seeing a chance to stick it to Israel, maintained for years that only the UN can dispose of Jerusalem. Here is a 1962 statement of the position:

…the status of Jerusalem is a matter of United Nations concern and no member of the United Nations should take any action to prejudice the United Nations interest in this question. Our objective has been to keep the Jerusalem question an open one and to prevent its being settled solely through the processes of attrition and fait accompli to the exclusion of international interest and an eventual final expression thereof presumably through the United Nations.

After the Oslo agreement, the State Department switched to saying “the final status of Jerusalem must be determined by negotiation between the parties [Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA)]”. But note that all of Jerusalem is still in play according to them, and therefore they refuse to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

As far as I can tell, this situation is unprecedented. It’s unimaginable that Israel would give West Jerusalem to the Arabs in a final settlement, and even the PA doesn’t claim West Jerusalem (at least not in public).

The State Department, in fact, seems to be aligned with Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria in this respect.

No other sovereign state gets this treatment. It’s insulting and serves to encourage extremists who continue to reject the legitimacy of the state of Israel. It’s time to end it, to move the US embassy to Jerusalem as Congress demanded more than once, and for the babies in diplomatic striped pants to grow up.

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Saudis have no right to impose anything

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

News item:

Saudi leader King Abdullah has urged US President Barack Obama to impose a solution on the Middle East conflict if necessary, Saudi newspaper Al Hayat reported on Sunday, quoting what it called informed sources.

During Obama’s visit to Riyadh last week, the Saudi monarch reportedly told the US leader that Arab patience was wearing thin and that a solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict would serve as the “magic key” to solving all regional issues, such as the Iranian nuclear threat and the rise of Hamas and Hizbullah, Reuters cited the newspaper, which is owned by the king’s nephew.

“We want from you a serious participation to solve the Palestinian issue and impose the solution if necessary,” Abdullah was quoted as telling Obama…

Saudi Arabia first proposed the Arab peace initiative in 2002, which calls for Israel’s complete withdrawal pre-1967 lines, including in east Jerusalem and on the Golan Heights, and a return of Palestinian refugees.

If the foreign policy of the United States of America is actually being determined by the Hereditary Racist Despot of Saudi Arabia, then  we are in bad shape indeed. But how else can we explain the otherwise intelligent Obama’s mouthing some of the same rubbish? Of course in Saudi Arabia the HRD can say whatever he wants without fear of contradiction (contradicting the HRD will probably get one’s head chopped off), but here the obvious falsehood of this statement must not go unquestioned.

Obama has great respect for the HRD, who rules an apartheid kingdom in which there are no Jews, Christian churches or woman drivers. But did he ask him these questions?

  • How will “solving the Palestinian issue” cause Iran to stop building a nuclear bomb? Is Iran trying to banish Western influence from the Mideast and establish a Shiite caliphate because Palestinians don’t have a state?
  • How will it affect the rise of Hamas and Hezbollah? If a Palestinian state that tries to live in peace with Israel could be created, wouldn’t these groups oppose it? Their charters call for the elimination of the Jewish state, not a Palestinian state alongside it.
  • Since Iran is bankrolling and arming the most extreme Palestinians, wouldn’t it make more sense to try to cut off this support first and then try to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Saudi Arabia is objectively one of the most socially and politically backward nations in the world, an absolute monarchy which officially banned slavery only in 1962 (but in which the practice continues), whose official web site declared until very recently that “Jewish persons” were forbidden to enter the Kingdom, where women are arrested and flogged for being in the company of unrelated males, homosexuality or cross-dressing is punished by long prison terms, and where Christians are persecuted.

Israel, on the other hand, is the most democratic country in the region, and the most enlightened by Western standards. It is preposterous that the HRD of Saudi Arabia should dictate to the US that it must force a “solution” — one, incidentally, that will result in the end of the Jewish state — on Israel.

Which of course, is what the Saudis are after.

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Why Obama cares about “natural growth”

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

I touched on this yesterday, but it was buried in the middle of a long post. Many people are asking questions like this one, from Simply Jews:

Why should the issue of resolving the natural growth problem become central to the whole Middle East peace process, when really crucial questions, such as status of Jerusalem, the “Right of Return”, Iranian nukes etc. are pushed aside?

It’s mysterious because building homes inside existing settlements — especially when these ‘settlements’ are East Jerusalem neighborhoods — will have little or no effect on any final agreements, while at the same time the issue is a hot button internally for PM Netanyahu. Why create problems for nothing?

Here’s what I think: Obama, for whatever reason, has decided that it is critical to establish a Palestinian state as soon as possible. And this particular demand — that Israel stop all construction anywhere outside of the pre-1967 borders, including East Jerusalem — has been articulated by the Palestinian Authority as a pre-condition for negotiations:

Until Israel meets his demands, the Palestinian president says, he will refuse to begin negotiations. He won’t even agree to help Obama’s envoy, George J. Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures. “We can’t talk to the Arabs until Israel agrees to freeze settlements and recognize the two-state solution,” he insisted in an interview. “Until then we can’t talk to anyone.” — Washington Post

Obama recently met with Abbas, and apparently agreed to give him what he asked for. Did the Palestinians give anything in return? I don’t know, but past history suggests not.

What can we learn from this?

  1. Obama will also be expected to push hard on getting poor Bibi [Binyamin Netanyahu] to utter the “two-state solution” formula. And indeed he’s already started.
  2. Obama can be expected to take the Palestinian side on many issues, just because it’s easier to pressure Israel.
  3. Israel should not expect US commitments — like the Bush letter of 2004 and understandings about settlement construction made in 2005 — to be honored. So much for Obama’s ‘truthful’ approach to the Middle East.

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