Archive for July, 2009

NPR anchor displays shocking ignorance

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

NPR anchor Robert SiegelI was making a salad for dinner on Thursday (July 23) when I heard the following, on the NPR program “all things considered”:

The Israeli Ministry of Education has banned reference to the Arabic the word ‘nakba‘ from Arabic-language Israeli textbooks. The word ‘nakba‘ means ‘the catastrophe’ and it resonates for millions of Palestinians; it’s the word that they use to describe the creation of the state of Israel, when millions of Palestinians became refugees at the end of the 1948 war.

The anchorperson, Robert Siegel,  should know better, being an alumnus of one of the best high schools in New York, Stuyvesant HS. Of course he also went to Columbia University, where — if he were a student today — he could take courses from tenured professors Joseph Massad, who decries “the renaming of ‘Palestinian rural salad (now known in New York delis as Israeli salad)’ as an example of Israeli ‘racism'”, and Nadia Abu El-Haj, who — while rejecting “a positivist commitment to scientific methods” and accepting a methodology “rooted in … post-structuralism, philosophical critiques of foundationalism, Marxism and critical theory and developed in response to specific postcolonial political movements” — still expects us to believe her contention that Israeli archeologists deliberately falsify findings to show a Jewish provenance in the land of Israel.

To get back to the story, only about 650,000 Arabs became refugees in 1948 (reasonable estimates range from 550,000 to 700,000). The millions who today claim refugee status have ‘inherited’ it from their parents, or simply claimed it in order to get on UNRWA’s dole.

There is much to say about refugees, more than I can present in a blog post. Here are a few things for you and Robert Siegel to keep in mind when you think about Mahmoud Abbas’ demand that all 4.5 million have a ‘right of return’ to Israel:

  • The “1948 war” actually began in 1947 when the Jews accepted the UN partition resolution and the Palestinian Arabs chose to fight. It intensified in 1948 after Israel declared independence and was invaded by armies of five Arab nations. In other words, the Arabs bear responsibility for starting the war.
  • Of the Arab refugees from Israel, there were those that left in anticipation of war (many from of the upper classes of Arab society), there were those who left in response to exhortations from the leadership, there were those who fled as a result of exaggerated atrocity stories (e.g., the Deir Yassin incident in which about 110 Arabs were killed, many of them combatants, and nobody was raped), there were some that fled actual fighting, and there were some — a minority, mostly from hostile villages — who were actually expelled.

Israel launched a “build your own home” project in the 1970s that allotted a half dunam of land “to Palestinians who then financed the purchase of building materials and, usually with friends, erected a home. Israel provided the infrastructure: sewers, schools, etc. More than 11,000 camp dwellers were resettled… before PLO, using intimidation tactics, ended the program.” Israeli authorities contended that had the program been allowed to continue apace, “within eight years every camp resident could own a single-dwelling home in a clean and uncongested neighborhood.” Joel Bainerman, “Permanent Homes for Palestinian Refugees,” Christian Science Monitor, May 26, 1992.

  • UNRWA, the UN organization created specifically for the purpose of supporting Palestinian refugees, provides welfare services which encourage population growth and dependency without moving in the direction of providing permanent homes for refugees — precisely the most destabilizing policy imaginable.

That’s just a beginning.

The ‘nakba‘ concept is part of the Palestinian story that the situation of the refugees today is all Israel’s fault, which Israel should remedy by committing suicide. You can understand why the Israeli Ministry of Education doesn’t want to pay to print textbooks that promote this point of view.

The salad I was making? It was an Israeli salad.

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The road to the solution runs through Tehran and Riyadh

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

Recently I heard that there will be a local ‘workshop’ that will bring Jews (Israelis and Americans) together with Palestinians, to engage in ‘dialogue’ and listen to each others’ ‘stories’. The idea is that ordinary people all want peace, and if we could understand where the others are coming from then we could get past the posturing and politics and become a force to influence our leaders to move toward a peaceful two-state solution.

Naturally, I don’t support the endeavor and would never participate.

But don’t I want peace? Don’t I think understanding — on both sides — is the key to peace? What could possibly be wrong about a dialogue in which both sides can express themselves? How can I say — as I do — that the very holding of such a dialogue constitutes propaganda for anti-Israel forces? What kind of fascist am I, anyway?

There are a number of problems here, including the fact that the deck is most likely stacked with left-wing Jewish participants who are already anti-Zionist, that the format suggests a moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas, etc. But those are small issues compared with the main one, which is this:

The premise of the workshop is that the conflict is primarily between Israelis and Palestinians. And it follows from this that Israel, which is much more powerful than the Palestinian Authority or Hamas or any other collection of Palestinians, is in control of the conflict. And therefore, the solutions suggested will naturally take the form of Israel giving up land and power, granting the Palestinians their ‘rights’. And the Palestinians in turn will naturally stop terrorism, because after all it is counterproductive in the face of an enemy with F-16s and Merkava tanks. And everyone will live happily ever after.

What’s wrong with this picture? Simply that the Palestinians are not driving the conflict from their side, although they are essential to it. The conflict is actually between Israel on one side and the Arab states and Iran on the other.

The Palestinian side — on which we also find Hezbollah, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and others — is lubricated by the enormous amount of money that the West has pumped into it by our purchase of Arab and Iranian oil. The huge missile buildups in Lebanon and Syria, the persistent rocket attacks from Hamas, the growing nuclear threat from Iran — all of these, and every kind of Palestinian terrorism, are encouraged, supported and financed by the major powers of the Mideast.

Suddenly, Israel — which is highly vulnerable because of its small size and concentrated population — doesn’t look so comparatively powerful. Yes, it has a nuclear deterrent, but the day it will be used will certainly be a day too late.

In my opinion, this is the most important single idea to get across to  those — like the organizers of workshops like this — who tend to see the conflict as a question of rights, and as something which can be fixed by more understanding between Israel and the Palestinians.

So I will not help support the idea that the problem is in essence a conflict between these peoples by sharing falafel and hummus with my Palestinian cousins, some of whom I’m sure do want peace, at least on some terms.

Instead, I’ll be suggesting that the road to the solution of the conflict today runs through Tehran and Riyadh rather than Jerusalem.

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Iranian ‘pro-Israel’ VP ordered fired

Friday, July 24th, 2009

When there’s tension between nations, officials usually criticize the leadership of the opposing nation, reserving sympathy for the ordinary people that have to live under whatever ‘evil’ regime it is.

But in yet another example of how Israel and Israelis are different, the Iranians don’t cut the Israeli in the street any slack:

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has ordered President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to dismiss his choice to serve as vice-president, state TV says.

Appointing Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie was “against your interest and the interests of the government”, the ayatollah wrote to Mr Ahmadinejad…

The row over Israel broke out last year when Mr Mashaei, then minister in charge of tourism, was quoted as saying that Iranians were friends with the Israeli people, despite the conflict between their governments.

“Today, Iran is friends with the American and Israeli people,” he said, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency. “No nation in the world is our enemy.” — BBC

Ahmadinejad may have originally overlooked Mashaei’s indiscretion because Mashaei’s son happens to be married to his daughter, but it is apparently important for the clerics that dominate the regime to make it clear that when they tell the crowds to shout “Death to Israel!” they mean every last Israeli.

Lest anyone think that Mashaei is soft on Zionism, the Tehran Times published this description of his appearance before the Iranian Majlis [parliament]:

“Israel is the most accursed name and I say death to Israel a thousand times,” Mashaii told the lawmakers…

“The lawmakers told Mashaii that calling Israel a nation is unforgivable and 220 MPs as well as senior clerics have condemned his remarks,” [MP Kazem] Jalali told the Mehr News Agency…

“Mashaii said I never used the word the Israeli nation. I said the people of Israel but many lawmakers protested that we do not recognize such people,” [Jalali] stated.

Jalali said, “Mashaii has asserted that his approach is the approach of the government. He said raising the issue of Holocaust was a real blow to the Zionist regime.

“Mashaii said we should continue our fight against the Zionist regime. The regime occupying Quds is in its worst situation and has lost its raison d’etre.

Yes, far too pro-Israel!

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Hillary’s umbrella

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was interviewed yesterday on the Thai World Beat program. The full text of the interview is here. Of course she talked mostly about topics related to East Asia, but she did make some remarks about the Mideast that atracted attention:

And as you know, the people in Iran’s neighborhood are the most concerned and are the ones who come to see me and convey their deep apprehension about what might happen. So we will still hold the door open, but we also have made it clear that we’ll take actions, as I’ve said time and time again, crippling actions, working to upgrade the defense of our partners in the region. We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment, that if the United States extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the Gulf, it’s unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer, because they won’t be able to intimidate and dominate, as they apparently believe they can, once they have a nuclear weapon. [my emphasis]

So what kind of ‘umbrella’ is she talking about? One phrase that she did not use (as some reported) was ‘nuclear umbrella’. She was not threatening a US nuclear response to Iranian use of the bomb. Reading carefully, the only explicit threat seems to be that when Iran builds nuclear weapons, the US may … increase conventional weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states! Imagine the trembling in Tehran.

Whether she means that the US will militarily guarantee the security of other nations in the Mideast, even  by conventional means, is not clear. And note that she said ‘in the Gulf’. This doesn’t include Israel.

Does this mean that the US has decided that they cannot or will not stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon? An unnamed US official quoted in the Wall St. Journal says no:

A senior U.S. official close to Mrs. Clinton said her comments weren’t new and didn’t indicate a slacking of the Obama administration’s resolve to deny Tehran nuclear weapons. Rather, the official said, the secretary of state was stressing that Iran would find itself more isolated, and less secure, if it continued to pursue nuclear technologies and that the U.S. remained committed to the defense of its Middle East allies. “We will not accept an Iranian nuclear weapon,” the official said.

But Mrs. Clinton said nothing of the kind.

My assessment today is this:

  • The US understands that it does not have the diplomatic capability to stop Iran and finds the risk of using force too great. I think it is correct to say that the US expects Iran to get nuclear weapons.
  • Iran will probably not move quickly to test or even to assemble actual weapons because of its fear of Israeli action. But it is working to shorten the period from final decision to possession of a weapon.
  • Strong statements made by the US warning Israel not to act are partly for Iranian consumption, but there’s no doubt that the US fears the Iranian reaction to an Israeli attack and will try to prevent one.
  • The US is even couching its policy statements in neutral venues like Thailand in pro-Arab terms.

I am hoping that Israeli political and military leaders are not expecting too much from the US these days.

Another famous umbrella: Chamberlin at Munich

Another famous umbrella: Chamberlin at Munich

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Operation Thunderbolt and the 3 stages of Palestinian PR

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

The other day I saw the film “Mivtza Yonatan” [Operation Thunderbolt], an Israeli film about the rescue of the Air France plane hijacked to Entebbe in 1976. You can call it a propaganda film, but after all, the story is true. I recommend it highly.

The hijacking was led by a German, Wilfried Böse (Klaus Kinski), a founder of the radical German Revolutionary Cells organization. His was aided by another German, Brigitte Kuhlmann (played in the film as a sadistic murderer by Sybil Danning), and two Palestinians belonging to the PFLP.

One of the most powerful moments in the film came when the hijackers separated the Israelis from the other passengers, a ‘selection’ reminiscent of the Holocaust. A German-speaking hostage asked Kuhlmann something like “how can you, a German woman, do this to Jews?” Kuhlmann answered “wir kämpfen nicht gegen die Juden…” “We are not fighting against the Jews. We are fighting Zionist Imperialism.” But one could see from her behavior that the distinction was less than sharp for her.

Kuhlmann represented the second stage of Palestinian anti-Israel PR (the first was “we are going to drive those Zionists into the sea”. It didn’t get much traction). Here is something I wrote last year which describes the second and third stages:

In the mid-1960’s Yasser Arafat — with Soviet guidance — turned the Palestinian public relations strategy around. David Meir-Levy wrote (History Upside Down, pp. 28-29),

Arafat was particularly struck by Ho Chi Minh’s success in mobilizing left-wing sympathizers in Europe and the United States, where activists on American campuses, enthusiastically following the line of North Vietnamese operatives, had succeeded in reframing the Vietnam war from a Communist assault on the south to a struggle for national liberation.

Ho’s chief strategist, General Giap, made it clear to Arafat and his lieutenants that in order to succeed, they too needed to redefine the terms of their struggle. Giap’s counsel was simple but profound: the PLO needed to work in a way that concealed its real goals, permitted strategic deception, and gave the appearance of moderation:

Stop talking about annihilating Israel and instead turn your terror war into a struggle for human rights. Then you will have the American people eating out of your hand.

At the same time that he was getting advice from General Giap, Arafat was also being tutored by Muhammad Yazid, who had been minister of information in two Algerian wartime governments (1958-1962):

Wipe out the argument that Israel is a small state whose existence is threatened by the Arab states, or the reduction of the Palestinian problem to a question of refugees; instead, present the Palestinian struggle as a struggle for liberation like the others. Wipe out the impression …that in the struggle between the Palestinians and the Zionists, the Zionist is the underdog. Now it is the Arab who is oppressed and victimized in his existence because he is not only facing the Zionists but also world imperialism.

The new approach was wildly successful, especially with the moderate Left, which had [until then] generally supported the somewhat socialist state of Israel.

A bit later somebody noticed how successful the strategy of boycott and divestment had been in bringing down the racist, apartheid South African regime. Israel is neither a racist nor an apartheid state — the concepts fit the Arab world much better — but they are tremendously powerful today, and unlike the “colonialist” and “imperialist” labels, are effective on a wide spectrum of the Western population, not just the Left. Thus began the third stage:

At the 2001 UN Durban Conference on Racism, this approach was refined, focused and amplified. Now Israel was presented as not only denying Palestinians their rights, but as doing so out of an essential racism. The false analogy with South African apartheid was pushed and similar remedies were proposed: delegitimization, boycotts, divestment, etc.

Today when we are continually bombarded with the message that the ‘problem’ is the denial of human rights to Palestinians, it’s best to remember that although the message has changed, the intention — the elimination of the Jewish state — hasn’t.

Just as Kuhlmann’s ‘political’ motivation was belied by her pleasure in humiliating Jews, so is the Arab and Iranian concern for Palestinian rights not entirely convincing. And does not the lack of interest in a peace agreement displayed by the Palestinians themselves tell us something about their actual goals?

By the way, another inspiring moment in the film was when the Air France crew insisted on being put with the Israelis at the time of the ‘selection’ — which, for all they knew, could have meant their death. Remember that the next time you are moved to dump on the French!

Loading the Hercules transport planes before leaving for Entebbe

Loading the Hercules transport planes before leaving for Entebbe: IDF Spokesperson photo

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