Archive for February, 2010

Land swaps and right of return

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

News item:

Israel and a future Palestinian state should agree to land swaps that would make settlement blocs part of Israel proper and certain Arab towns now in Israel part of a future Palestinian state, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said in an interview published on Saturday.

Ayalon also said that the Palestinian demand to stop settlement construction as a precondition to negotiations was unrealistic, and would be like Israel demanding that the PA, as a precondition to talks, give up its demand for a “right of return” for Palestinian refugees.

In an interview with the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Alawsat, Ayalon said Israeli Arabs “would not lose anything” by joining the Palestinian state as part of a land swap.

“If Israeli Arabs say that they are proud Palestinians, why should they not be proud in the Palestinian state?” the Israel Beiteinu minister asked. This population could contribute to building the Palestinian state due to its high socioeconomic status, he said.

I don’t know how much of the above was simply rhetorical, but a few comments:

A) Israeli Arabs have always been violently opposed to land swaps, for two reasons. One is that they know that they are far better off economically and more secure physically as citizens of Israel than of ‘Palestine’. The other is that they believe that the land of Israel belongs to them and that ultimately they will control it. Here’s my favorite quotation to demonstrate this:

We are an inseparable part of the Palestinian people, we are the original residents of the place and we will never leave it. We are the owners of these lands and we are not guests… Let he who arrived last leave first. — Ahmed Tibi, Arab Member of the Knesset, at last summer’s Fatah convention.

Land swaps would be a great idea, if the goal was to make a peaceful two-state solution possible. This of course is the last thing that the Palestinian Arab leadership wants, preferring to keep the conflict going until (perhaps as a result of a regional war) it will succeed in ending the Jewish state and taking all of the land.

B) While I agree that the Arab demand for a settlement freeze is unreasonable, it’s not in any way parallel to an Israeli demand for them to give up their claim to a right of return to Israel, which is far beyond unreasonable, being a demand for Israel to commit suicide. Here’s a slightly improved version of a list I made a few years ago of reasons that the “right of return” should not even be considered:

  1. The war which created the refugees was started by the Palestinian Arabs and their allies and was the culmination of a campaign of terrorism and pogroms against Jews in Palestine since at least the 1920’s. They lost the war — why should this result be reversed?
  2. There were at most 700,000 Arab refugees (probably less). The Palestinians are demanding that almost 5 million descendants of these ‘return’ to Israel 60 years after the war (the Jewish population of Israel is about 5 million). No similar ‘right’ has ever been granted to descendants of refugees.
  3. During and after the War of Independence, about 850,000 Jews were expelled from or fled their homes in Arab countries, in most cases leaving all of their property behind. These Jews were absorbed by other countries, most of them going to Israel. Do not their descendants have a claim on the Arab world?
  4. The Arab nations hosting the Palestinian refugees refused to absorb them, and a special UN agency (UNRWA) was created just for them. The normal UN refugee agencies were not used, because they are concerned with finding homes for refugees. UNRWA’s job, on the contrary, has been to keep them in camps and on welfare in order to nurture a hostile population to be used as a source of anti-Israel soldiers and ultimately as a demographic weapon. Some UNRWA personnel belong to terrorist organizations, such as Hamas.
  5. When Jordan occupied Judea an Samaria and East Jerusalem in 1948, these areas were ethnically cleansed of Jews, who fled or were murdered. Today, the Palestinians are demanding that all Jewish settlements be removed from what would become their state. Yet they expect Israel to absorb an additional 5 million Arabs!
  6. If Israel were to agree to this, it would immediately have an Arab majority and would cease to be the state of the Jewish people. But the Palestinians insist that they must have a state because they have a right to self-determination. Apparently, they do not think that the Jewish people has this right as well.
  7. Practically speaking, the influx would result in immediate civil war, which would make similar wars in Lebanon and Yugoslavia look like ping-pong tournaments.

In addition, it’s extremely important that Israel does not agree to any such right in principle, even if it is not put into practice.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

NIF energizes donors by damaging Israel

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Jacob Berkman writes a blog about Jewish philanthropy called “The Fundermentalist“. Today he tells us that for the New Israel Fund, apparently no publicity is bad publicity:

The attack on NIF may actually play right into the organization’s hands. At least that’s what [NIF CEO Daniel] Sokatch seems to think.

He told us that the recent attention proved to be a boon for NIF.

“This has not only mobilized our base, but there are people hearing about us for the fist time and saying, ‘This is what I want to support,’ ” Sokatch said. “That is the irony of this. This has put us in the limelight.”

The NIF says its number of Facebook fans has tripled, and its number of Twitter followers has jumped 50 percent over the past two weeks. And more than 50 Tweeters have put a horn on their profile pictures in a show of solidarity with [NIF President Naomi] Chazan.

…and all this because someone pointed out that NIF-funded organizations provided much of the documentation cited in the Goldstone report!

Sokatch went on to take credit for what some see as the destructive phenomenon of left-wing Israeli organizations, empowered by foreign money, which use the rhetoric of social justice and  human rights to contribute t0 the demonization of Israel:

“Over the past 30 years, NIF has helped to transform Israel into a vibrant civil society, and there is virtually no corner of civil society not touched by NIF,” Sokatch told The Fundermentalist Wednesday. “We really seeded the ground for what has flourished over the past 30 years.”

I suppose he doesn’t exactly agree with my interpretation, of course, but considering what some major recipients of NIF grants have done with their money, it isn’t far from the truth. In the most generous view, NIF’s goal is to import ‘progressive’ ideas of social justice, as they have developed in places like California, to a tiny Middle Eastern nation which is at war, literally surrounded by enemies and with a substantial hostile population within its borders as well.

But Israel isn’t Berkeley, and anyway the reality is that some of NIF’s grantees are cynically using the progressive rhetoric as a smokescreen to hide their efforts to weaken the state.

Sokatch, former Executive Director of a group called the Progressive Jewish Alliance,  and CEO of the the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation for a year, has just recently taken the job of NIF CEO.  He’s very focused:

Though the NIF claims that it hit its slightly decreased budget expectations last year, the organization has struggled to energize a young base of donors, despite its liberal slant. The NIF is hoping that will change as a result of its turn in the spotlight.

“We will do everything we can” to monetize the new interest, Sokatch said.

Technorati Tags: , ,

An answer from the Reform movement

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Recently I posted a copy of a letter I wrote to the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the Reform movement in America, which criticized it for its support of the New Israel Fund (NIF). I was very pleased to receive a reply from a URJ official which explained its position.

Unfortunately, I don’t have permission to publish the statement. But I can reproduce my response (with some minor editing), which I think will make clear why I was not convinced.

Dear _______,

Thank you for the long and considered response. You are right that you haven’t convinced me. Here’s why:

1) Let’s dismiss some straw men. I don’t know who said it [yes I do; see update below], but the idea that ‘without the NIF there would be no Goldstone report’ is preposterous and I certainly don’t hold this position. I also do not think that nothing the NIF does has value; they do make grants to numerous worthwhile groups in addition to the 16 in question. Finally, I was very happy to see Rabbi [Eric] Yoffie’s denunciation of the Goldstone report, and do not doubt your love of Israel or commitment to Jewish values.

2) Regarding the numbers, I deliberately didn’t mention the 92% figure in my letter in order to avoid getting into an arithmetic contest. What Im Tirtzu claimed was that 92% of the footnotes from non-governmental Israeli sources which were judged negative, came from the 16 NGOs. This is correct — or if it’s wrong, we can still say ‘the great majority’. No, they were not entirely responsible for the Goldstone report — but they contributed mightily, especially when you consider the extra weight given to an Israeli source accusing the IDF of crimes.

3) I think the argument should be over whether the activities of the ‘dirty sixteen’ are damaging to Israel’s security, and not over who is trying to ‘stifle’ whom. In any event, accusations of “muzzling” and “McCarthyism” which have been leveled at Im Tirtzu are preposterous in view of the unequal distribution of media power between the NIF, with its budget of $32 million per year and a student organization which may have received a few hundred thousand dollars in funding, most of which was probably spent on those controversial full-page advertisements.

4) Of course human rights organizations should point out human rights abuses, but these particular organizations are clearly biased against Israel. Just two examples: a) b’Tselem has supported the attempts of Palestinians, extremist Israelis and ‘internationals’ to damage the security barrier and provoke Israeli responses in weekly ‘nonviolent demonstrations’ which invariably become violent; and b) the Israeli-Arab ‘civil rights’ organizations supported by NIF like Adalah and Mossawa consistently conflate legitimate civil rights issues with Palestinian national aspirations, aspirations to ‘de-Judaize’ the state. These NGOs are also heavily funded by hostile European governments and church groups.

A very good summary of the relationship of the NIF-funded NGOs to Goldstone and of their anti-Israel activities in general can be found here, including a table showing funds received from NIF and European governments.

5) We Americans must be careful to not draw false analogies between Israel and the US re civil rights. The US is hugely powerful, relatively secure, and has been at peace for most of its existence. Israel, despite its powerful military and nuclear weapons is tiny and highly vulnerable, and has been at war to one degree or another since its creation, almost 62 years ago. Indeed, one can argue that the Arab struggle against Jewish sovereignty has been going one for about 100 years.

So while I think that everyone’s human rights ought to be fully protected, it’s impossible to ignore the context of existential war in which Israel finds herself.

It’s also important to note that Israel’s enemies understand quite well the Western (and Israeli) attitude toward human rights and free speech, and make use of it effectively to advance their goal — which, paradoxically, is anything but a free and open society in which Jews have rights or self-determination.

— Vic Rosenthal

Update [2038 PST]: I just realized that it was Im Tirtzu itself (see the photo of the sign in a previous post) that said that ‘without the NIF there would be no Goldstone report’. Oops.

Im Tirtzu was wrong about this — there would have been a Goldstone report if the UN had to depend on Mein Kampf for footnotes — but there is no doubt that the NGOs I called the ‘dirty sixteen’ contributed greatly to it.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

How Adam Lowther learned to stop worrying and love the (Iranian) bomb

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

The  most frightening thing about this mind-numbingly wrongheaded op-ed in the NY Times (“Iran’s Two-Edged Bomb“) is the line at the end that describes the author:

Adam B. Lowther is a defense analyst at the Air Force Research Institute.

Let’s hope that he wrote this as a result of a bar-room bet on the gullibility of the Times, because we really don’t want anyone basing policy on this. In that spirit, let’s look at the five reasons that Dr. Lowther thinks the Iranian nuclear bomb has an upside:

Reason 1:

Iran’s development of nuclear weapons would give the United States an opportunity to finally defeat violent Sunni-Arab terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. Here’s why: a nuclear Iran is primarily a threat to its neighbors, not the United States. Thus Washington could offer regional security — primarily, a Middle East nuclear umbrella — in exchange for economic, political and social reforms in the autocratic Arab regimes responsible for breeding the discontent that led to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The US cannot provide ‘regional security’ when all it can offer is nuclear retaliation. So when Iran, which already controls Syria and Lebanon and will soon control Iraq, pushes to raise oil prices and threatens to unleash Hizballah, for example, what do we do? Nuke them? Iran knows that the US cannot afford to get bogged down in another conventional war.

Even if we could provide security, the ‘deal’ Lowther proposes will not help defeat Sunni terrorism, for the following reasons:

  • Even if we could somehow force democratic reforms, the organized opposition in the conservative Arab countries tends to be Islamist. Hold real free elections and we might not be happy with who wins, as in the Palestinian elections of 2006 when Hamas came out on top.
  • Real political and economic reform is impossible anyway. The ruling elites will not make reforms that involve giving up the reins of power and economic fruits of control, regardless of what we offer and what they promise.
  • Does anybody (still) think that terrorism is caused by ‘discontent’ rather than Islamist ideology? Apparently Lowther does.

Reason 2:

…becoming the primary provider of regional security in a nuclear Middle East would give the United States a way to break the OPEC cartel. Forcing an end to the sorts of monopolistic practices that are illegal in the United States would be the price of that nuclear shield, bringing oil prices down significantly and saving billions of dollars a year at the pump. Or, at a minimum, President Obama could trade security for increased production and a lowering of global petroleum prices.

What would be the motivation for the Saudis to cut prices to us? Both parties know that if we don’t defend them and they are overthrown by Islamists or dominated by Iran, the price will go through the roof and the supply will become uncertain. They have as much or more leverage as we do. Lowther’s argument that we could trade security for concessions of any kind simply doesn’t make sense.

Reason 3:

Israel has made clear that it feels threatened by Iran’s nuclear program. The Palestinians also have a reason for concern, because a nuclear strike against Israel would devastate them as well. This shared danger might serve as a catalyst for reconciliation between the two parties, leading to the peace agreement that has eluded the last five presidents. Paradoxically, any final agreement between Israelis and Palestinians would go a long way to undercutting Tehran’s animosity toward Israel, and would ease longstanding tensions in the region.

Believe me, Palestinians would be ecstatic if Tel Aviv and a million Jews were vaporized, even if they lost a few tens of thousands of Arabs. If their leaders cared about Palestinian casualties, they would have accepted one of the many peace proposals that they have rejected. During the Second Lebanon war in 2006, Hizballah rockets fell disproportionally on Arab towns in the Galilee. Palestinians cheered loudly; they were happy to take blows for the cause. Remember, this is the culture that popularized suicide bombing as a weapon.

As far as the linkage theory expressed in the final sentence: Lowther has it backwards. Iran’s animosity toward Israel exists because Israel projects American power in the Mideast and because the religious issue is useful to inflame Muslims. Iran’s project to dominate the region is a cause of Israeli-Palestinian tension, not a result of it!

Reason 4:

…a growth in exports of weapons systems, training and advice to our Middle Eastern allies would not only strengthen our current partnership efforts but give the American defense industry a needed shot in the arm.

With the likelihood of austere Pentagon budgets in the coming years, Boeing has been making noise about shifting out of the defense industry, which would mean lost American jobs and would also put us in a difficult position should we be threatened by a rising military power like China. A nuclear Iran could forestall such a catastrophe.

In order for a Mideast arms race to significantly affect the economy, we would have to shift massive amounts of our productive capability into weapons manufacture; even the Saudis can’t buy that much. And then of course when Iran or the Sunni Islamists take over, they get all that hardware. In addition, this implies that the Saudis would pay in oil dollars, which would motivate them to — surprise — keep the price of oil high.  And finally, although we are being ‘realists’ here, I might add: is this the direction that we want our economy and society to go?

Reason 5:

…the United States would be able to stem the flow of dollars to autocratic regimes in the region. It would accomplish this not only by driving down the price of oil and increasing arms exports, but by requiring the beneficiaries of American security to bear a real share of its cost. And in the long run, a victory in the war on terrorism would save taxpayers the tens of billions of dollars a year now spent on overseas counterinsurgency operations.

First, it will not drive down the price of oil (see my response to reason 2 above). If anything, it will increase it; the price of oil has always been proportional to the degree of tension in the region. Second, it will not give us victory against terrorism. Iranian-sponsored terrorism will increase, and Sunni terrorism will not go away even if there are ‘reforms’ in the conservative Arab nations, which there won’t be (see my answer to reason 1).

Lowther argues further that nuclear weapons in the hands of the Mullahs will increase stability in the region:

What about the downside — that an unstable, anti-American regime would be able to start a nuclear war? Actually, that’s less of a risk than most people think. Unless the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, and his Guardian Council chart a course that no other nuclear power has ever taken, Iran should become more responsible once it acquires nuclear weapons rather than less. The 50-year standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States was called the cold war thanks to the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons.

There are at least four problems here. First, Iran might use nuclear weapons against another country, Israel for example, on the reasonable assumption that the US would not retaliate in kind for an attack on a third party. Second, Iranian leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could be motivated irrationally by apocalyptic religious beliefs to use the nuclear weapon. Third, the Iranians might transfer weapons to Hizballah, for example, to use them against another country while maintaining deniability. And fourth — and most likely — the possession of such weapons may be enough to influence the balance of power in the region, even if they are not actually used.

As a final example of the triumph of wishful thinking over reality, I give you Lowther’s last argument:

Saudi Arabia and Iraq would be united along with their smaller neighbors by their fear of Iran; the United States would take the lead in creating a stable regional security environment. In addition, our reluctant European allies, and possibly even China and Russia, would have a much harder time justifying sales of goods and technology to Tehran, further isolating the Islamic Republic.

Iraq will not be united with Saudi Arabia by anything, because as soon as US forces leave, the Shiite government will align itself with Iran. Proximity is destiny, and there is no way that the castrated Iraq can resist Iranian domination, even if the leadership wanted to.

And Lowther gives no reason why China and Russia would “have a hard time” justifying trade with Iran. Why should they, when they have had no trouble refusing to help apply sanctions that might have impacted Iran’s nuclear project in the first place? Who do they have to justify their actions to, anyway? The US has little influence over Russia and perhaps less over China, our major creditor. Anyway, what would their advantage be from making an enemy of an already nuclear Iran?

Please, somebody tell me that this article was not meant seriously!

Technorati Tags: , ,

Letter to the Reform movement

Monday, February 8th, 2010

I’m a member of a Reform Jewish congregation.  I wrote the following letter to Rabbi Eric Yoffie of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Rabbi David Saperstein, head of its “Religious Action Center”. I also sent a copy to our rabbi and the president of the congregation. If you are a Reform Jew in the US, you should do the same:

February 8, 2010

Dear Rabbi Saperstein and Rabbi Yoffie,

I was shocked to see that the Reform Movement – in the person of Rabbi Saperstein –  has leapt to the defense of the New Israel Fund (NIF), after it was revealed that almost all of the negative ‘evidence’ from Israeli sources in the slanderous Goldstone report came from 16 NIF-supported non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Although this incident has propelled the NIF into the public eye in Israel, the fact is that the NIF, with its annual budget of $32 million, has been funding numerous groups which are part of the ongoing campaign against the Jewish state for years. The independent organization NGO Monitor wrote,

While the organization does some positive work in Israel that should be applauded, it refuses to engage in debate regarding several of its grantees that demonize Israel at the UN, support boycott and divestment campaigns, promote “lawfare” cases against Israeli officials, and even advocate erasing the Jewish character of the state. Significantly, many NIF donors are unaware of these activities.

Rabbi Saperstein, and indeed all the defenders of the NIF, responded by viciously shooting the messenger – Im Tirtzu, an Israeli student organization – and by citing some other causes supported by the NIF which were innocuous. They did not challenge the substance of Im Tirtzu’s exposé.

The NIF trades on the desire of progressive American Jews to support social justice, accepting their donations under false pretenses and using them to damage the Jewish state.

I call on the URJ to place itself firmly in the truly pro-Israel camp – as Rabbi Yoffie did when he publicly rejected J Street’s call for an immediate ceasefire at the start of the Gaza war – and to end all support for and relationships with the NIF.

For more details, see my previous posts here, here, here, here and here.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,