Archive for January, 2010

The Greeks had a word for it: hypocrisy

Friday, January 22nd, 2010
Theodoros Pangalos: doesn't condone theft -- but how about murder?

Theodoros Pangalos: doesn't condone theft -- but how about murder?

Theodoros Pangalos is Deputy PM of Greece and a member of the Greek Parliament for the PASOK socialist party.  In 2008, Pangalos returned a Christmas gift of wine from the Israeli Ambassador. In explanation, he issued the following press release:

Dear Mr. Ambassador,

Thank you for the 3 bottles of wine that you sent me as season’s greetings. I wish to you, your family and everybody in the Embassy a happy new year. Good health and progress to you all.

Unhappily I noticed that the wine you have sent me has been produced in the Golan Heights. I have been taught since I was very young not to steel [sic] and not to accept products of theft. So I can not possibly accept this gift and I must return it back to you.

As you know, your country occupies illegally the Golan Heights who belong to Syria, according to the International Law and numerous decisions of the International Community.

I take the opportunity to express my hope that Israel will find security into its internationally recognized borders and the terrorist activities against Israel territory by Hamas or anybody else will be contained and made impossible, but I also hope that your government will cease practicing the policy of collective punishment which was applied on a mass scale by Hitler and his armies.

Actions such as those of these days of the Israel military in Gaza remind the greek [sic] people holocausts such as in Kalavrita or Doxato or Distomo and certainly in the ghetto of Warsaw.

With these thoughts allow me to express to you my best wishes for you, the Israeli people and all the people of our region of the world.

Was he also taught not to murder or allow others to do so? Perhaps not:

PASOK was in power under Andreas Papandreou from 1981-89 and from 1993-97, and Pangalos was a cabinet minister in both governments. During the first period, Greece pursued a relationship with radical Arab forces, particularly Syria, Libya, Iraq and the PLO. Cooperation was such that terrorists were allowed to operate in Greece with minimal interference.

In 1984, American and British agents captured Abdallah Fuad Shara, a member of the murderous “May 15” organization, which

…specialized in the use of sophisticated suitcase bombs and plastic explosives, and focused on American and Israeli targets, and in particular means of transportation — ships and planes. The organization’s is charged with the attack on the Greek ship Orion in Haifa Port (December 1981); attacks on American and Israeli airliners in the years 1982-83, and attacks on crowded hotels and restaurants for the purpose of wholesale killing.

The PASOK government released him and gave him free passage to Algeria. He was finally arrested in 1990 and taken to Israel, where he received a 25-year sentence.

Another member of the May 15 group, Mohammed Rashid (or ‘Rashed’), was arrested at the Athens airport in 1988. After Papandreou was replaced by Constantine Mitsotakis, he was finally sentenced to 15 years in prison in Greece. But 8 years later, after Papandreou and PASOK returned to power, Rashid was freed for “good behavior”. He too was later rearrested, and this time taken to the US, where he ultimately was sentenced to an additional 7 years.

Numerous terrorist incidents occurred in Greece on PASOK’s watch, including the 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847, in which an American, Robert Stethem, was brutally murdered. Papandreou adopted the policy at first in order to curry favor with Arab nations where Greece had business interests and to get support from Arabs for his anti-Turkish and anti-American policies. Later, he apparently felt that appeasement was the best way to protect Greece from terrorism.

So the highly moral Pangalos apparently has less trouble belonging to governments which have condoned terrorism than he does drinking wine produced in a territory that was occupied as a result of a defensive war!

Do I smell hypocrisy? ( a good Greek word!)


Update [24 Jan 1051 PST]: Some bloggers have said that this story was a hoax. Actually it did occur, but in December 2008, at least according to Pangalos’ personal website. See the link preceding the quotation.

Update [25 Jam 0835 PST]: This post originally referenced an article in the Jerusalem Post by Jonny Paul. This article was removed by the Post, possibly because it did not make clear that the events described happened 13 months ago.

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Don’t give up Golan for a promise

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Yossi Alpher, a well-known analyst of the Israeli-Arab conflict and, despite his left-wing orientation, someone who should know better, wrote this:

[R]enewal of the peace process between Israel and Syria deserves more and better attention from the US and the moderate Arab states. Unlike in the Palestinian arena, here the parameters of a process are clear, most of the negotiating has already been done and Syrian President Bashar Assad is able to deliver. Obviously, success in the Israeli-Syrian arena is not guaranteed. But if achieved it would reduce Iran’s regional influence and weaken Hamas, thereby improving the chances for fruitful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – when circumstances are more favorable than today.

Alpher correctly understands that while Hamas controls Gaza and while PA President Mahmoud Abbas is committed — by ideology and by fear of his constituency — to maximal demands on borders, refugees, Jerusalem, etc., there can be no secure peace agreement with the Palestinians. So, maybe for lack of anything else to do, he thinks Israel should pursue an agreement with Syria.

“if achieved it would reduce Iran’s regional influence and weaken Hamas”, he says. Well, if Bashar Assad would honestly make peace with Israel, then it might do these things. But that’s like saying that flying pigs would revolutionize air transport.

Here are some of the problems with the idea:

Syria today has a very close relationship with Iran, which provides weapons and economic benefits. It works closely with Iran’s proxy, Hizballah, in exploiting Lebanon. Recognition of the Jewish state would put Syria on the US/Israeli side of the struggle for control of the region, imperil all of this and make enemies out of Iran and Hizballah.

In addition, Syria uses the conflict with Israel for domestic political purposes. As Barry Rubin argued in his book “The Truth About Syria“, the continual state of war with Israel provides an excuse for the Syrian regime to suppress both reformist and Islamist opposition, as well as for the economic difficulties of the population.

But the Golan is extremely strategic, even in this day of missile warfare. If Israel had not controlled the Golan in 1973, there’s no doubt that Syrian tanks could have penetrated deeply into Israel’s heartland. And while the Assad regime would prefer not to make peace, it would very much want to get the Golan back. So the obvious danger is that there might be a peace agreement, one that Assad or a successor would renege on. Who would or could guarantee it? Israel’s experience with multinational or UN forces indicates that no one could.

As always, Israel is asked to make a concrete concession of a strategic asset in return for a promise. “Assad is able to deliver”, says Alpher. But would he really, and could he deliver a possibly Islamist successor in advance?

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Amreeka, a movie review

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

This is a delightful film, which I recommend to everyone.

Yes, it’s a Palestinian film, from the Palestinian perspective and where it touches on Israel it does not do so sympathetically. Palestinians are hassled at checkpoints, and ‘occupation’ is blamed, not terrorism. Americans for the most part come off cold, naive and xenophobic. But it is one of the most honest films that I’ve seen in a while.

The plot is simple. Muna, a divorced Christian Palestinian woman with a teenage son, Fadi, feels that he has no future in the territories and emigrates to a small Illinois town where her sister lives. Her encounter at the airport with US immigration personnel is priceless: “Occupation?” asks the official, and Muna replies “Yes, it is occupied, for forty years.”

The year is 2003, Americans are worried about terrorism and teenagers are …teenagers, which makes it hard for Fadi, whom they creatively call ‘Osama’. Muna’s sister Raghda and her doctor husband Nabeel have money and marital problems as Nabeel’s practice suffers when fearful or biased patients leave. And the educated Muna, a former bank employee, struggles to find a job, ultimately flipping burgers at White Castle.

There’s no sex, no violence more serious than kids punching each other, and only the barest whiff of the inevitable Hollywood ‘love interest’.

Here’s what I liked about it:

The Palestinian Arab actors. Americans do a bad job playing Arabs — what can I tell you?

Linguistic realism. They spoke Arabic (with subtitles), English, and a mixture of English and Arabic that reminded me of my own family’s mixed English and Hebrew.

The view of America — good and bad — from the ‘outside’. Anyone who’s been unemployed will recognize Muna’s experiences looking for a job. When I came back to the US after almost a decade in Israel, I felt a similar disconnect, despite my good English and cultural understanding. There is a warmth about Middle Eastern people that came through clearly.

The de-emphasis of politics. It’s not a Zionist film, I didn’t expect one, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with Palestinian victimhood.

There’s nothing deep about it, but it’s well-done and entertaining.

Netflix subscribers can watch Amreeka here, and you can read Roger Ebert’s review here. Here’s the trailer:

[myspace] [/myspace]

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A world of propaganda

Monday, January 18th, 2010

This past Saturday night (January 16), our local public radio station, KVPR, aired the most anti-Israel 55 minutes that I’ve heard anywhere. And that is saying something, because KVPR’s competition in the listener-supported radio world carries the Pacifica network, home of Amy Goodman.

The weekly program is called “A World of Possibilities”, and is produced by an outfit called Connexus Communications”, which is supported by grants from ‘progressive’ foundations, especially the Ford Foundation. It’s provided free for download and broadcast by anyone who wants it.

Saturday’s episode was called “Victims No More: Seeking the Middle Way in the Middle East,”  but there was no “middle way” or balance about it. The host, the snotty Mark Sommer — who often peppers his remarks on unrelated programs with anti-Israel comments (in a program about Darfur, he said conditions were “as bad as the Palestinian territories”) — interviewed five guests. Let’s look at what each one contributed to the program:

Amal Jadou, deputy chief of the PLO mission in Washington spoke for about fifteen minutes, delivering an unrelieved rant about the horrors of occupation, all the humiliations suffered by the Palestinians, whom she calls “the Jews of the Jews” in support of her offensive position that Jews have persecuted Palestinians just as they themselves were persecuted in Europe. Need I remind you that Jadou’s PLO practically invented terrorism as a political tool and has murdered thousands of Israelis, more than any other terrorist group?

Rami Khouri, a Palestinian/Jordanian journalist living in Beirut, also got about 15 minutes. Khouri, educated in the US, speaks excellent English and specializes in sounding moderate while delivering his zingers, such as talking about Israel’s “colonization program,” saying that “the Israelis have shifted very sharply to the right,”  that “both sides fight in vicious and barbaric ways,” that the “core of the [Mideast] conflict” is the Palestinian question, that the US has not historically been a “fair mediator” but has leaned toward Israel, that the US has “echo[ed] the views of the right wing in Israel,” and that Israel “overreacts[!]” to Iranian threats.

Haleh Esfandiari, a Iranian/American scholar who was imprisoned in Iran got about 7 minutes. She didn’t talk about Israel or the Palestinians at all, and — because of her opposition to the Iranian regime — seems to have been included as a form of balance.

Motti Cristal, an Israeli who served as a negotiator when Palestinian terrorists invaded and occupied (and damaged and desecrated) the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem for 40 days in 2002, had his seven minutes of fame. He explained his theory of “interest-based” negotiation and the power relationships between Israel and the Palestinians. Nothing earthshaking, and I wasn’t sure why he was included until he dropped his payload, in response to a question from host Sommer: “in order to reach a comprehensive settlement … you have to include representatives of Hamas in any negotiation table set between Israel and the Palestinians.” You could almost see Sommer licking his lips with glee.

Josh Weiss, an academic and ‘negotiation consultant’, had the final 5  minutes. Weiss’ contribution was the idea that the issues on both sides were primarily ‘symbolic’. Palestinians didn’t want to actually exercise a right of return, he said, they just wanted to overcome their sense of “being wronged.” You could have fooled me. But Weiss really shone when host Sommer, apropos of nothing, asked him about ‘occupation’. “When I go [to Israel], you know, I feel it, I feel the connection to that, to being part of the occupier. In some way it’s like what white South Africans might have felt,” Weiss said.  Why thank you, Josh.You can go back to your Harvard office now.

“Most people on both sides are victims of an argument they had no part in creating,” says Sommer in conclusion, ignoring the fact that the Palestinian leadership, by refusing to accept any solution that implies the end of the conflict and the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, has played a very big part in keeping the argument alive. Indeed the whole thrust of the program is to repeat the mantra “both sides, both sides, both sides,” ignoring  small asymmetries like the fact that Israel’s goal is to live peacefully in the Middle East and the Palestinian goal is to prevent this!

KVPR, as I mentioned before is a listener-supported station. I do not believe for a moment that most of its listeners share the vicious point of view of Mark Sommer, or think that a program composed of blatant anti-Israel propaganda belongs on the schedule. If your local public radio station carries “A World of Possibilities,” please write to it (in Fresno, you can contact KVPR Program Director Jim Meyers — I intend to) and tell them that this is not the way you want your donations used.

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Who’d bother to kill Mahmoud Abbas?

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

News item:

Fatah head Mahmoud Abbas, current chairman of the Palestinian Authority, claims that Israel is trying to assassinate him. Abbas told an Egyptian news agency this week that Israel had murdered his predecessor,Yasser Arafat – despite Arafat’s commitment to peace – and that he is afraid of suffering the same fate.

The man is beyond belief, and the US keeps paying him!

The implication is that he is for peace and a two-state solution, and Israel, which does not want peace, might kill him for his courageous stance, like his mentor Arafat.

In the real world the PA is doing its best to avoid negotiations with Israel, because it knows that its bottom lines — strict 1949 borders, return of ‘refugees’ to Israel, no recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, etc. — are unacceptable to either Israel or the US.

This is because they do not represent a compromise; they represent the whole ball game. Even Barack Obama has ruled out a right of return, has called for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and has favored land swaps.

So Abbas insists that the fact that Israel will not extend its building freeze to East Jerusalem means that it is impossible to talk. Of course, extending the ill-considered freeze would prejudge the status of East Jerusalem, something which is theoretically part of the theoretical negotiations. It’s bad enough that a cloud has been cast over all the rest of Judea and Samaria.

In any event, Israel is not building new settlements and there’s no connection between construction anywhere and the possibility of holding negotiations.

Israel understands quite well that neither Abbas or anyone else associated with the PA wants a ‘peace’ agreement that would be anything other than a complete capitulation to all of their demands. Even if someone did, he would receive no backing and probably be in physical danger from more extremist elements.

So killing Abbas would get Israel exactly nothing, just as killing Arafat in 2004 would not have. Israel could have and should have killed Arafat in 1982, but that’s another story.

The legend about Israel having poisoned Arafat — most authorities think it more likely that he died from complications of AIDS or was poisoned by Palestinian rivals — has joined Arab mythology along with the one about the Mossad’s responsibility for 9/11. It’s a good story, though, and Abbas used his interview to get in another lick at Israel.

The so-called ‘peace process’ which the US is bound and determined to ‘restart’ yet again is a diversion from more serious issues — Iran — as well as an excuse for the US and Europe to slice bits off of Israel in pursuit of their real policy goal. That is to shrink Israel as close to the 1949 lines as possible in order to appease Saudi Arabia, which has been pressuring the US to oppose a Jewish state in Palestine at least since Ibn Saud met with Roosevelt in February of 1945.

Apparently the plan goes just this far, with a sort of hazy idea that security problems will be ironed out after the main goal has been attained. This is the same kind of reasoning, by the way, that brought us the disaster in Iraq.

How to make the tiny Palestinian state viable, how to defuse the terrorists in Judea and Samaria when the IDF pulls out, what to do about Hamas, what about the crime and corruption-ridden Palestinian society and politics, what about the influence of Iran by way of its proxies Hamas and Hizbullah, etc. — all of these issues are ‘handled’ by wishful thinking, just like the problems of post-Saddam Iraq.

In truth, the US and Europe care as little for Israel and the Palestinians as they did for the Iraqis. Peace can come only when the outside forces — in this case the West, Iran and Saudi Arabia leave the area alone. Without the ‘encouragement’ that today leads Palestinian Arabs to believe that they will succeed in getting the Jews out of the region,  perhaps a realistic  leadership could arise that will accept the idea of a state alongside Israel. But I’m not holding my breath.

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