Archive for February, 2010

How Bashar Assad made a fool of the US

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

News item:

The U.S. administration has asked Syrian President Bashar Assad to immediately stop transferring arms to Hezbollah. American officials made the request during a meeting Friday with the Syrian ambassador to Washington…

The move was described as an opportunity to discuss the next steps following the visit to Damascus by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns on February 17. The administration also said the meeting was part of its efforts to achieve a direct dialogue with Syria on issues of interest to both sides.

Haaretz has learned that Burns’ visit to Damascus ended unsatisfactorily for the U.S. administration. During Burns’ meeting with Assad, the Syrian leader denied all American claims that his regime was providing military aid to terrorists in Iraq, or to Hezbollah and Palestinian terror groups.

Assad essentially told Burns that he had no idea what the American was talking about.Ha’aretz

The US recently presented a gift to Bashar Assad, by nominating Robert Ford as the first US ambassador to Syria since the recall of our ambassador following the Syrian-perpetrated murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. Barry Rubin notes that to add insult to to injury to pro-Western circles in Lebanon, this was done on the 5th anniversary of the murder!

In keeping with the strategy of ‘engagement’, the Obama Administration preferred to literally let Assad get away with murder in order to promote US strategic interests.

Important interests indeed: nothing is more likely to bring about a regional war in the Middle East than a massive rocket attack on Israel by Hizballah. Once the rockets start flying, Israel will not feel constrained to spare Iranian nuclear facilities; and then Iran will retaliate in various ways which may include harming US troops in the Mideast and will certainly affect the oil supply. No matter how they feel about Israel, the administration and State Department are very serious about oil. The US might even get dragged into conflict with Iran as a result.

And by the way, wouldn’t it be helpful if Assad would make it easier for Obama to get out of Iraq without too much trouble from the insurgents that Syria presently arms and supports?

We were just asking for a quid pro quo. Well, we gave them the quo and what did we get for a quid? Assad doesn’t know what we’re talking about!

Update [1 Mar 0920 PST]: Read Barry Rubin’s latest comment on this subject here.

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Intelligent sheep with foreign passports

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

As you may know, next week is “Israeli Apartheid Week” on campuses around the world. Airline tickets from Israel to London must be on sale for the event, because

A Tel Aviv University professor is set to open this year’s “Israel Apartheid Week” taking place at three London university campuses.

Adi Ophir, an associate professor at TAU’s Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science, will open the event on Monday. “Israel Apartheid Week” takes place at the School of Oriental and African Studies, the London School of Economics and University College London.

In a talk titled “Anatomy of rule in the occupied Palestinian territories,” Ophir, who is author of the book The Power of Inclusive Exclusion: Anatomy of Israeli Rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, will share a platform with Sari Hanafi, an associate professor of sociology at the American University of Beirut…

Ending the week of events will be Israel-born filmmaker Eyal Sivan, who will answer questions following the screening of his film Yizkor: Slaves of Memory.

The event program describes the film as “a portrait of the Israeli society that has never been shown before” that looks “in depth at this imperative that is imposed on the children of Israel.”

The film accuses Israel of using the “myths and symbols” of Purim and Pessah to indoctrinate Israeli youth.

“In Israel during the month of April feast days and celebrations take place one after another. School children of all ages prepare to pay tribute to their country’s past. The collective memory becomes a terribly efficient tool for the training of young minds,” the program states.

Speaking also next week is Michael Warschawski, described as a “leading Israeli anti-apartheid figure,” and Arab-Israeli Salah Mohsen, a member of the Balad party’s General Council…

The event will also take place at Oxford University; participants include Israel-born academics Ilan Pappe and Avi Shlaim as well as MK Jamal Zahalka, chairman of the Balad party, who has a doctorate in pharmacology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

I apologize for the length of the quotation, but there are so many of these people (see also here, here and here)! It seems that every day I read or write about another Israeli intellectual who is part of the anti-Zionist movement.

Note that I am not talking about people expressing disagreement with the policies of the government, dissidents. I am not talking about left-wingers who advocate withdrawal from the territories in exchange for peace. I am talking about those who, in their writing and speech, explicitly oppose the existence of the Jewish state, delegitimize it, or support its enemies.

I think no other nation on earth has such a great proportion of its elite who, to put it simply, hate their homeland. Here’s a snippet from one of them, Michael Warschawsky:

In my opinion, the core of our discussions should not be about solutions and models, but values and rights. In that perspective, one has to unequivocally reject the very idea (and existence) of a Jewish state, whatever will be its borders. For a Jewish state (in the demographic sense of the concept) necessarily implies the drive for exclusion and expulsion. Any ethnic (or confessional) state considers the non-dominant ethnicity as a threat, and aspires to its disappearance through more or less violent means. As former Yugoslavia and Rwanda have tragically shown, ethnic states are always both the cause and the result of mass-expulsions and massacres, and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1947-1949 is one among many examples of that historical phenomenon.

What is actually going on here is that wackos like Warschawsky, with arguments made by violently maiming historical fact to fit the Procrustean bed of post-colonialist ideology, want to overthrow a legitimate, thriving state based on democratic principles and replace it with yet another failed Arab dictatorship — if you believe that ‘Palestine’ will be something else, just look at the Palestinian Authority and Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Today the weapon of choice to be wielded by “internationals” and anti-Zionist Israelis is the BDS (Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions) movement, whose function is to weaken outside support for Israel in order to make it easier for the more traditional weapons in the hands of Hizballah, Hamas, Iran and Syria to do the bloody work of finishing off the Jews in the Middle East.

Jewish nationalism — Zionism — is viciously rejected by these Israeli intellectuals, whose parents in some cases were given the chance to live a normal life by the Jewish state, the one Jewish state alongside the 22 Arab nations in the neighborhood. Nevertheless, they have absolutely no trouble showing profound reverence for the national rights of the ‘indigenous Palestinian people’, most of whom are descended from Arabs of Syria or Egypt who entered ‘Palestine’ after 1820!

These ‘intellectuals’ aren’t even sheep that can easily be led to slaughter. They are intelligent sheep with foreign passports that actively push the less accomplished members of their flock ahead of them into the chute at the abattoir  in the name of the highest moral principles.

They are traitors no less culpable than an Israeli selling weapons to Hamas terrorists.

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Happy Purim!

Saturday, February 27th, 2010
Today's would-be Haman

Today's would-be Haman

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Therapist-assisted suicide

Friday, February 26th, 2010

I am beginning to think that the criteria used by the editors of the NY Times for evaluating op-eds about the Mideast are these:

Is it weird enough? Is it far enough removed from reality? Is it bad enough for Israel?

Today there’s one by a Tel Aviv University psychologist, Dr. Carlo Strenger, who advocates “diplomatic therapy” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

The trauma is mutual and multilayered. The Palestinians have never been able to mourn what they call the Nakba, the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948. Their ethos of national liberation was based on the idea that all refugees would be able to return to their homes in Jaffa, Ramle and Lod. Letting go of this dream, a condition for the two-state solution, requires a process of mourning that has been made almost impossible by the humiliation of the occupation and the force of Israeli retaliation, culminating in the Gaza war last year.

Trauma is not the Palestinians’ alone: Israeli Jews live under a fear of annihilation that overshadows any consideration of compromise. Many critics of Israel believe that such a statement is a cheap ploy to justify colonial ambitions, but right or wrong this is the reality of the country’s collective psyche. Israelis still look back at the attacks by Arab armies in 1948, 1967 and 1973 as moments when they could have been wiped out, and this fear is revived today by the possibility of Iran’s acquiring nuclear weapons.

Where to start? How about the bias implicit in Strenger’s exposition: were all the Palestinian refugees expelled? Some were, certainly. But many left voluntarily to escape the chaos of the war that their leadership had a great part in bringing about; and most of the responsibility for their inability to return lies with the Arab nations.

Regarding the Jews, what exactly is the point of suggesting that their fear of annihilation may be unreasonable — worse, “a cheap ploy to justify colonial ambitions?” Are the Hizballah, Syrian and Iranian missiles chopped liver? Strenger does not suggest that the Arab nakba tales might be exaggerated, so why are Jewish fears?

Furthermore, it’s gratuitously false to say that the recent Gaza war was “retaliation.” That’s pure Goldstone.

But OK, he’s a psychologist, not a historian, and what’s important for therapy is not what is in reality, but what’s in the patient’s head. So Palestinian Arab fantasies are as important as historical facts. The nakba stories with their imaginary or exaggerated massacres, rapes, etc. are as important as the very real history of Arab war and terrorism against Israel, the treachery of Arafat in the Oslo period and the murderous ambitions of Hamas.

How can the therapist help calm this anger and fear? There’s a problem, and of course it’s Israel’s fault: the “humiliation of the occupation” and Israeli “retaliation” have made it impossible for the Palestinians to ‘mourn’ (it seems to me that they’ve been mourning violently since 1948 and what they haven’t been able to do is get even. But that’s just me). The implication is that to enable this mourning, Israel has to leave the territories and stop defending itself.

Strenger also brings up the issue of religion, so that he can equate the danger from “Israel’s ideological Right” to the well-armed, Iranian funded, antisemitic, genocidal fanatics of Hamas who rule 40% of the Palestinian Arab population. Is he kidding?

So what does diplomatic therapy look like?

As in Northern Ireland, the sponsoring parties, presumably the members of the so-called quartet — the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States — should maintain a permanent peace conference that will convene until an agreement is reached. And the quartet needs to find ways to engage all parties in the region, most of all the Arab League, but also Hamas and possibly, at some point, Iran.

Strenger proposes, therefore, that the borderline-hostile Quartet (only the US can be called even ambiguously pro-Israel) maintain a permanent institution designed to beat Israel until the Palestinians and others are satisfied with the result! And look at those others: the Arab League, which fought to prevent the creation of Israel and has been implacably opposed to its existence ever since; Hamas, which explicitly calls for the destruction of Israel and the murder of its Jewish inhabitants; and Iran, whose President called (yesterday) for the “nonexistence of the Zionist entity,” which is directly responsible for the last two wars fought by Israel, and is preparing the ground now for the next.

This is a therapy group? It sounds more like a lynch mob. But Strenger thinks there will be a catharsis:

An open-ended process would allow Palestinians to voice their rage and pain about what they have gone through and to express their need for Israel to recognize its part in the Nakba. In the same way patients progress by talking about their traumas, a therapeutic process may lead the Palestinians to realize that they have not just been passive victims, that they have made decisions, ranging from rejection of the American partition plan in 1947 to the use of suicide bombers since the 1990s, that have driven back the possibility of peace.

Likewise, Israel’s Jews need to be able to voice their fear that Arabs will never accept the existence of Israel, and that the two-state solution is just a step toward its destruction. Therapeutic diplomacy will help them gradually accept their share of the responsibility for the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948. In this way both parties can come to realize that accepting the other’s narrative and point of view does not mean annihilation.

I expect that the Palestinians will voice their rage and pain, something that they are expert at and do all the time. But why should this cause them to stop thinking of themselves as passive victims? It seems to me that the more they express their rage, the more convinced of their victim status they get. And they’ll get a lot of reinforcement from the other group members.

Israelis, for the most part, do accept that some Arabs were expelled in 1948, and that some of them were innocent people who suffered needlessly. They do not in general (except for those like Strenger) think that they must accept the responsibility for everything bad that happened to the Palestinians, they do not accept the Palestinian definition of the ‘crime’ that they are accused of, and they most assuredly don’t agree that they must accept 4-5 million hostile Arabs who claim to be descendants of  all of the original refugees in order to atone for it.

With all due respect, I don’t see a two-sided process of reconciliation here. I see only more pressure for Israel to make still more concessions, to move closer to the Arab position — which has not budged a centimeter since 1948 — until it finally gives up on the idea of Jewish self-determination.

It’s not therapy, it’s therapist-assisted national suicide!

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Quotes of the month

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

…because I’m too lazy to write something serious!

An Israeli cabinet minister is more likely to face prosecution in the United Kingdom nowadays than a terrorist who has murdered Israeli civilians. — Barry Rubin, 2/22

What was disproportionate this time? Was there a disproportionate use of passports? — Tzipi Livni, 2/24

The Goldstone Report seems to be objective and well-grounded — Diego López Garrido, the secretary of state for the European Union in the Spanish Foreign Ministry, 2/25

A Middle East without Zionism is a divine promise… Time is on the side of the peoples of the region. The Zionist entity is nearing the threshold of nonexistence. Its raison d’être is finished, and its path is a dead end. If Israel wants to repeat the mistakes of the past, the death of the Zionist entity is certain… This time, all the nations of the region will stand fast in the face of the [Zionist regime], and will uproot it. — Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Damascus (tr. MEMRI) 2/25

Iran, like Syria and Lebanon, will from now on not permit [a situation] in which any of them will fight alone in the [upcoming] war that Tel Aviv has for some time been trying to involve the U.S. in… — Muhammad Sadeq Al-Husseini, columnist for Syrian state daily Tishreen (tr. MEMRI), 2/24

The most important thing gleaned from the report by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) circulated on Feb. 18, which states that Iran may indeed be bent on developing a nuclear bomb, is not new information about Iran. It is that for years the United Nations apparatus lied about what they knew and actively stood in the way of efforts to prevent the world’s most dangerous regime from acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapon. Anne Bayefsky, Eye on the UN, 2/22

Hating Israel as a unique aggressor is simply predicated on five unspoken truths: 1) rampant anti-Semitism (one can hate Jews by the loftier notion of being “anti-Zionist”; 2) fear of radical Islamic terrorists; there are apparently no radical Tibetans hijacking planes or blowing up Madrid train stations due to Spanish ties with communist China; 3) oil, oil, oil. The Cypriots cannot enlist the Greeks to withhold 500 billion barrels of oil in the Aegean from world markets. If such a fantasy were true, Nicosia would be on the front pages; 4) Israel is Western, like the U.S., and in a most un-Western neighborhood, so hating Israel is a mechanism of hating the U.S. on the cheap; 5) demography. If there were a billion-person Orthodox community energized by a half-billion Greek-speakers, we most certainly would wish to solve the “Cyprus crisis”. — Victor Davis Hanson, 2/5

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Brant Rosen, rejectionist

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

I’m still thinking about the phenomenon of left-wing anti-Zionist Jews.

Let’s skip the doctrinaire Marxists stuck in their closed system like Noam Chomsky, the opportunists like Jeremy Ben-Ami, the mentally unbalanced like Norman Finklestein and those obsessed by hatred like Philip Weiss (note that some of the above fall into more than one category).

Let’s talk about the non-pathological ones who have nevertheless come to think that the existence of a Jewish state is fundamentally unjust. Sometimes they even say that Jewish ethics precludes Zionism.

A good example is Rabbi Brant Rosen. A reconstructionist rabbi, he calls himself a member of the “co-existence community.”  This sounds like a good thing; Jews and Arabs should co-exist. But Rosen’s approach turns out to be one-sided.

He stopped celebrating Yom ha’Atzmaut last year because, in his words,

As a Jew, as someone who has identified with Israel for his entire life, it is profoundly painful to me to admit the honest truth of this day: that Israel’s founding is inextricably bound up with its dispossession of the indigenous inhabitants of the land. In the end, Yom Ha’atzmaut and what the Palestinian people refer to as the Nakba are two inseparable sides of the same coin. And I simply cannot separate these two realities any more.

Obviously there are some serious historical issues buried here. ‘Indigenous’ carries a lot of freight. Were Arabs who came to Ottoman Palestine in the 1830’s from Egypt with Muhammed Ali so much more ‘indigenous’ than the Zionists of the 1890’s? What about Arabs who arrived after the turn of the 20th century to take advantage of economic development fertilized by Jews? What about the Jews who had been in ‘Palestine’ since the exit of the crusaders?

Another important word is ‘dispossession’. We know that some Arabs were forced from their homes in 1948; but we also know that some villages were centers of murder and terrorism waged against the nearby Jewish communities for decades. We know also that the Arab leadership of the time was not prepared to compromise over territory, choosing war instead. And the Jews were up against the wall with nowhere else to go.

For Rabbi Rosen, the sin of the birth of the state was that the Jews won that war, with the consequence that many Arabs left their homes and could not get back — some because they were expelled, many simply to escape the war zone. Objectively there were few massacres. What do you think would have happened had the Arabs won?

Rosen also seems to stop at the nakba. He doesn’t discuss the weaponization of the refugees by the Arab states, abetted by the West in the form of UNRWA, or the viciousness of Arab ‘resistance’, usually taking the shape of terrorism aimed at the civilian population of Israel. He ignores the “Three No’s.” He doesn’t talk about Yasser Arafat’s use of terror throughout the Oslo period, his building an educational and media system designed to create hatred and prevent reconciliation, his misrepresentation of the Camp David and Taba offers, and his rejection of them in favor of still more death and destruction. In general, Rosen doesn’t hold Arabs responsible for bad decisions and wrong actions.

I think this is a key point. He sees these things as irrelevant because in his view the nakba was so unjust that any means are permitted to reverse it. The crime was committed by the Jews in 1947-8 and must be atoned for before there can be co-existence.

But how to atone? Rabbi Rosen quotes approvingly from an article by Amaya Galili of Zochrot, which I’ll talk about another time. Galili says,

Accepting responsibility for the nakba and its ongoing consequences obligates me to ask hard questions about the establishment of Israeli society, particularly about how we live today. I want to accept responsibility, to correct this reality, to change it. Not say, “There’s no choice. This is how we’ve survived for 61 years, and that’s how we’ll keep surviving.” It’s not enough for me just to “survive.” I want to live in a society that is aware of its past, and uses it to build a future that can include all the inhabitants of the country and all its refugees.

Galili and Rosen want Israeli Jews to ‘correct reality’. It’s funny; it would seem to me that Oslo was just such an attempt. But of course it was not enough, just like Olmert’s 2008 offer wasn’t enough, because only reversing the nakba — which means granting an Arab right of return and ending the Jewishness of the state — could be. Only Israel’s un-winning the War of Independence would be enough for them.

So despite Rosen’s attempt to suggest that he wants justice for both sides, he allows just one side to define ‘justice’. While he is capable of seeing the nakba as a disaster for the Arabs, he can’t seem to see the years of terrorism against Jews in the Mideast — before and after 1948 — as a disaster for the victims. When he asks the Jews to ‘take responsibility’, he wants them to take all the responsibility, as if the Arabs have been entirely passive for the last 100 years.

This is not the position of someone who thinks that both Jews and Arabs have similar rights as humans and that fairness is the highest virtue. This is the position of a partisan of one side, who will be satisfied with nothing less than complete, total victory. It is identical with the Arab rejectionist point of view that has prevented co-existence for all of these years.

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Chance of Mideast war not as great as it may seem

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Many commentators (including me) have been worried about the possibility of a new regional war in the Mideast, possibly triggered by a US or Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, or by Hizballah launching its massive rocket collection at Israel. But recently I’ve come to think that war is unlikely in the near future.

Everyone pretty much agrees that a preemptive US attack is not in the cards.

Anne Applebaum, in the Washington Post, writes:

[Barack Obama] will not bomb Iran’s nuclear installations for precisely the same reasons that George W. Bush did not bomb Iran’s nuclear installations: Because we don’t know exactly where they all are, because we don’t know whether such a raid could stop the Iranian nuclear program for more than a few months, and because Iran’s threatened response — against Israelis and U.S. troops, via Iranian allies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Lebanon — isn’t one we want to cope with at this moment. Nor do we want the higher oil prices that would instantly follow. No American president doing a sober calculation would start a war of choice now, while U.S. troops are actively engaged on two other fronts, and no American president could expect public support for more than a nanosecond.

She left out one other important point: the US is relatively low on the list of those who are directly threatened by the Iranian bomb. Said list looks something like this:

  1. Sunni Arab regimes (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Gulf states, Jordan), Lebanese Christians, etc.
  2. Israel
  3. Europe
  4. The US

So while a nuclear Iran will be very bad for us in the long run — we’ll get those high oil prices anyway — we are not digging up our backyards to build shelters, as they are (figuratively) doing in Israel.

Note that I put the conservative Arab regimes first on the list. Barry Rubin explains, here, that that the Arabs correctly think that whatever happens, they will be losers:

If the United States … or Israel attacks Iran to destroy its nuclear weapons’ facilities, Iran and its allies will unleash a wider conflict … that will suck in the Arabs. But if no one stops Iran from getting weapons, the Arabs will suffer even more from Iranian imperialism, both direct and through fomenting revolutionary upheaval.

What about a preemptive Israeli attack? It’s also unlikely at this stage. Israel knows that an effective attack would be difficult and uncertain, and the Iranian retaliation painful, so it will act only to prevent a direct nuclear threat from Iran. Most analysts do not believe that there is such a threat yet, and there will not be for at least another year.

The warlike talk coming from Ahmadinejad and his proxies has lately been increasing in volume. But this could have two very different meanings:

  • Ahmadinejad may think the time is actually ripe for a regional war to eliminate Israel, or
  • he is trying to scare the US and Israel in order to deter them from taking military action against his weapons program.

I think the latter is more likely. My reasoning is as follows:

Hizballah could attack Israel, if it gets a green light from Iran. But Israel has made clear to Iran and Syria that they would not get off unscathed if this happens. Since it would not have anything to lose once the rockets start flying, Israel would certainly make a point of hitting Iranian nuclear facilities, which Iran very much wishes to preserve.

More important, if Iran were forced to respond in turn by taking actions that would affect the oil supply like blocking the strait of Hormuz, or if it were to attack American troops in the Mideast, it would be very hard for the US to keep from responding, no matter who is President. While the US would never invade Iran, a sustained bombing campaign against nuclear and other military targets — which the US, unlike Israel, is very capable of waging — would set the Iranian program back years and possibly bring about regime change.

Ahmadinejad understands all this. He also knows that Hizballah, Syria and Hamas together could do a lot of damage but probably do not represent an existential threat to Israel.  So it is not in his interest to initiate a conflict at whose end he will find himself much weaker and maybe out of power. Iran controls Hizballah tightly. So, barring accidents, he will keep the reins tight.

What I think is that the Iranian regime’s present goal, above all else, is to obtain the nuclear capability that will enable it to dominate the region, through aggression and subversion under the nuclear umbrella. This is the main fear of the Arab regimes that Rubin alludes to. Therefore a war with Israel — or worse, the US — is not to Iran’s advantage today.

I also don’t think that the peripheral players, like Russia, want to see it either. Russia continues to temporize about delivering the A-300 antiaircraft system that it has sold to Iran, probably because its delivery would make an Israeli attack more likely.

Of course, once Iran has attained its goal of becoming a true nuclear power, everything changes. But that won’t happen this year.

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On being pro-Israel

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Somewhere in the discussion about what it means to be pro-Israel (in the context of J Street, the New Israel Fund [NIF], etc.) I heard the following:

Being pro-Israel doesn’t mean supporting Israel no matter what it does

I get it. I understand where they’re coming from.

Suppose my neighbor is arrested and charged with stealing a car. Would I support him? Would I bail him out of jail? Well, that would depend on my judgment of his character and his motives. Maybe I would and maybe I wouldn’t.  I’d try to be fair; after all, he has the same rights as anyone else. This is the attitude of the ‘progressive’ Jew toward Israel.

Now suppose someone is arrested and charged as above. Only this time it’s my son. Everything changes. Would I support him no matter what he does? Of course not, but I would try much harder to understand him. I would give him the benefit of the doubt. I would listen to his story. I would give his explanations at least as much credence as those of his accusers, maybe more. This is the attitude of the Zionist Jew.

Zionists among the Jewish people gave birth to the modern state of Israel, sacrificed for it and supported it in its childhood.  The Zionist feels differently about Israel than he does about, say, Japan. The best analogy is to say that he feels a family relationship.

The ‘progressive’ Jew that sees himself as a post-nationalist world citizen doesn’t feel that. He imagines that he’s gone beyond the narrow family of the Jewish people and joined the wider circle of humanity. For him, Israel is “just another country“.

“No,” the J Streeter says, “we really love Israel. But we believe in Tough Love.”

Sorry, I don’t buy that. Tough love is what you get to after years of trying regular love, what you do when you have no other choice, when your family member is so bad or destructive that you have to protect yourself. The slick, cool con men of J Street never had a love relationship with the Jewish state.  The person or group at NIF that could choose Adalah to receive more than $1 million could not have loved the Jewish state, if they had read Adalah’s position papers.

This really isn’t a question of Left and Right. Amos Oz is a leftist who loves Israel, and he’s not the only one. I disagree with the Zionist Left the way I disagree with family members. There’s a bottom line that unites us, a bottom line of belief in Jewish self-determination, which presupposes a belief that it makes sense to talk about a Jewish people that we both belong to.

When Michael Oren refused to meet with J Street because it took positions — on Iranian sanctions, on calling for an immediate cease-fire in Operation Cast Lead, on the Goldstone report — that were damaging to Israel’s interests, he was in effect saying that J Street had gone beyond the bottom line. And I think we can see that this could happen because their staff’s idea of their ‘people’ is only secondarily, if at all, the Jewish people.

James Traub wrote an article in the NY Times Magazine about J Street, which, while it contained some of the usual nonsense about the Mideast, was revealing about J Street. It included this:

The average age of the dozen or so staff members is about 30. [J Street Executive Director Jeremy] Ben-Ami speaks for, and to, this post-Holocaust generation. “They’re all intermarried [see update — ed.],” he says. “They’re all doing Buddhist seders.” They are, he adds, baffled by the notion of “Israel as the place you can always count on when they come to get you.”

I think they are probably also baffled by, or at least see themselves as having transcended, the idea of the Jewish people — although I wonder how they would respond if asked if there is a ‘Palestinian people’?

Update [24 Feb 0803 PST]: I’ve been informed that in an interview Ben-Ami clarified that he did not mean that his staff was all intermarried, but rather that the young generation of Jews was “different”.

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The myth of Jewish self-hatred

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Barry Rubin has a fascinating post (here) about recognizing antisemitism, and how so many otherwise smart people can’t do it.

Almost at the end he makes a significant point in an offhand way. Talking about some Jewish communists who displayed great antipathy to Judaism and were “more loyal than the king” in attacking anticommunists, he suggests that they are motivated by “ideology and selfish self-promoting … interests” rather than self-hatred, which he calls “a major myth.”

Of course. Most of the Jewish Israel-haters, from the ones who are out front about it, like Max Blumenthal, to the ones who claim to be “pro-Israel” while they do their best to subvert it, like Jeremy Ben Ami of J Street, do not have a strong enough connection to Judaism to hate themselves over it.

They are probably quite honest in expressing the bemusement they feel when they are called “self-hating Jews.” In truth, they are barely Jews at all. What’s to hate?

Marcy Winograd, a candidate for Congress in Los Angeles, gives us this perfect example:

Though I identify with persecuted Jews, I grow up longing to be part of the dominant culture. I hang little red and green lights on plastic Christmas trees and rarely visit temple except to hava nagila at the boys’ bar mitzvahs or to pray on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when we never atone for the sin of theft, slaughter, or occupation.

No hate here, just indifference. Rubin’s suggestion is much more straightforward: Jewish anti-Zionists use their Jewish ethnicity to increase their power and importance, to draw attention to themselves and to gain credibility, because in the ceaseless din of the arena of anti-Zionist activism, it’s hard to stand out without a unique shtick.

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The case for whacking Bin Laden

Friday, February 19th, 2010

I’ve heard speculation that recent events in Pakistan — the arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and others — may finally make it possible for the US to locate Osama Bin Laden.

Assuming that theories that the US doesn’t really want to capture or kill Bin Laden because of connections to his powerful family are false (I honestly have no opinion about this), the question arises:

If we get him, what should we do with him?

Some will undoubtedly want to put him on trial, while others would like to publicly throw him off a tall building. Some will claim that our behavior must be based on our commitment to universal principles of morality and law, while others will point out that he didn’t treat the 3,000+ victims of 9/11 morally and he shouldn’t be treated any better.

There will be the usual statements that “it would be bad to make him a martyr”. Let’s dismiss this right away: his supporters are already fanatical enough to commit suicide in order to advance their goals. So it really doesn’t matter if they have one more picture of a dead guy to hold up.

My point of view is beginning to show: a war-crimes trial would be incredibly expensive and provide a long, drawn out opportunity for his supporters to present their point of view to the world. This point of view is not something that can be debated alongside our Western one; it represents a wholly different paradigm. There’s nothing to talk about.

Indeed, if we do anything other than kill him, we will be sending a message to the other side. It will not be the message that we are moral and strong enough to treat him ‘fairly’, it will be the message that we are too weak and cowardly to fight back.  The message we might want to send won’t cross the barrier between our disparate conceptual schemes.

Don’t even bother arresting him, even if the goal is to electrocute him after due process. Just find him and blow him to bits in the cheapest way possible.

The other side will understand.

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On not saying you’re sorry

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Everyone seems to want Israel to apologize, or ‘clarify’, or in some way abase itself today.

In connection with the Dubai assassination, the Dubai police chief has called for the head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, to be arrested. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has called the use of British passports in the operation an “outrage”, and called in the Israeli ambassador to discuss the incident.

If the Mossad did kill Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, then good for them — nobody deserved it more than Mabhouh. Hamas admitted that Mabhouh was responsible for the abduction and murder of two Israeli soldiers in 1989, has helped plan Hamas terrorism for years, and was recently involved in bringing Iranian weapons to Gaza. Israel doesn’t need to apologize; in fact the Mossad should expand its activities and kill more Hamas leaders.

Israel is at war and doesn’t need to apologize for shooting back.

In a somewhat less sensational affair, a number of US congresspersons got their noses out of joint when Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon refused to meet with them when they visited Israel on a J Street sponsored trip:

“It was with real surprise and disappointment that we read a headline in this morning’s paper saying, ‘Foreign Ministry Boycotts Members of Congress,’” said [Rep. William] Delahunt, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to Israeli journalists at a Tel Aviv press conference Wednesday afternoon.

“In our opinion this is an inappropriate way to treat elected representatives of Israel’s closest ally who are visiting the country – and who through the years have been staunch supporters of the US-Israeli special relationship. We would respectfully ask the government for a clarification of its stance toward this and future delegations.”

Ayalon expressed what many of us feel about J Street when he said:

I don’t have to agree with J Street ideologically… but it bothers me when they present themselves as something they’re not. They can say they’re Jewish, or pro-peace, or whatever, but they can’t [say] they are a pro-Israel organization. They’ve bashed Israel on many occasions.

Bashed, and also worked directly against Israel’s interests. Is that clarified enough?

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Good intentions aren’t enough: Rabbis for Human Rights

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

I’ve written a lot recently (here, here, here, and here) about the controversy surrounding the New Israel Fund (NIF) and the accusations against it made by Im Tirtzu, a student Zionist organization, which claimed that 16 NIF-funded organizations were responsible for the majority of the documentation supporting the anti-Israel conclusions of the Goldstone report.

One of the 16 was “Rabbis for Human Rights” (RHR), a group founded and run by Rabbi Arik Ascherman (whom I met some years ago in another context. He seemed like a nice guy). RHR is probably one of the least offensive of the 16 groups cited by Im Tirtzu. Unlike the Israeli Arab groups Adalah and the Mossawa Center, it does not work toward the “de-Judaization” of the state, nor does it specialize in slandering the IDF throughout the world, like Breaking The Silence. I’m sure Ascherman doesn’t want to see Hamas attain its goal of replacing Israel with an Islamic state.

Here’s how NGO Monitor, a harsh critic of many Israeli NGOs, summarized its 2005 report on RHR:

RHR is an example of a human rights organization that, while critical of Israeli government policies and prone to political statements that are out of the human rights sphere, refrains from engaging in the language of demonization. RHR, however, also works in coordination with and lends support to many of the most active anti-Israel NGOs, and focuses most of its resources on Palestinian issues, while failing to address many of the complex issues involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

According to its website, RHR works to “promote the upholding of Palestinian rights in a variety of areas, in east Jerusalem, the west bank and Gaza,” which it does by legal action and “on the ground,” which sometimes includes civil disobedience. It works with Palestinian Arabs and ‘internationals’, volunteers from outside of Israel. It protects Arab farmers from “violent settlers” when they harvest olives, files lawsuits when it believes that the security barrier is encroaching on land worked by Palestinians, and tries to prevent the demolition of illegally-built Palestinian structures (alleging that Israeli policies preclude legal building).

Protecting anybody’s rights is laudable and there’s no doubt that there is a lot of unfairness in the relationship of the Israeli authorities toward Palestinians in particular cases.

But — yes, there had to be a ‘but’ — there are several problems.

One of them is that the philosophy of the group seems appropriate for a social change club on a university campus in the US, not a Middle Eastern nation at war.  Rights exist in a societal context: the Mideast isn’t Berkeley, California, and Israel’s struggle to survive in a very hostile world isn’t a student demonstration. An occupied territory with a hostile population isn’t a minority neighborhood in an American city. Like the “messianic crazies” that they decry on their website, RHR too has a one-dimensional view of right and wrong.

Yehoyada Amir’s exposition of the ideology of the group sees the “post-national approach” as the pinnacle of political evolution, although he somehow wants to leave room for an attenuated tribalism called a “familial and national partnership.”  Unfortunately he comes down way too far on the multicultural and “pan-human” side for today’s (or even tomorrow’s) Middle East. It’s a kind of unilateral disarmament in a hostile and well-armed neighborhood.

Another problem is the possible consequences of RHR’s actions. If a bunch of college students oppose, say, the gentrification of a poor neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin then they might or might not help anyone, but in any event there will be little damage. But an Israeli  human-rights group taking the  position that the IDF’s intentions in Gaza must be investigated may have far-reaching consequences for Israel’s ability to defend itself.

RHR sees the conflict as a struggle between “two peoples”, by which I presume they mean Jews and Palestinian Arabs. But there is a much wider context which can’t be ignored, in which the Jewish state is considered an abomination, illegitimately existing in the midst of land forever belonging to Muslims, by literally hundreds of millions of Arabs and other Muslims whose fondest desire is to see it disappear.

This rejectionist opposition is also extremely well-organized and well-financed, today primarily by Iran, which is moving to surround Israel by proxy armies. It also supports terrorist groups in the territories and even extremists among the Arab citizens of Israel. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that Israel is in existential danger from these forces, even leaving aside the nuclear threat.

From RHR’s myopic point of view, the Jewish state is a behemoth oppressing powerless Palestinians; but in fact it is a very small and vulnerable island in a hostile sea. One of the strategies of Israel’s enemies is to remove the props of international support and reduce the world’s tolerance of its efforts at self-defense, in order to make it easier to physically destroy it. Thus the delegitimization campaign of which the Goldstone report is emblematic can have very real consequences for Israel’s future.

Palestinians in particular understand quite well the Western attitude toward human rights, and do their best to help make the news from the territories and Jerusalem fit the narrative of a noble people victimized by a soulless oppressor. RHR serves as a perfect megaphone for this.

Even if its complaints were not unbalanced or exaggerated, RHR  applies Berkeley standards to a Middle Eastern nation which has essentially been at war since its founding. It amplifies and focuses attention on human-rights issues which — in context — are not issues. By doing so it provides real ammunition to Israel’s enemies.

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