Archive for April, 2010

Three disturbing reports from the White House

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Lots of strange and disturbing things are coming from the White House now that the health-care issue is over:

1) Islamic terrorism is dropped into the memory hole.

President Barack Obama’s advisers will remove religious terms such as “Islamic extremism” from the central document outlining the U.S. national security strategy and will use the rewritten document to emphasize that the United States does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terror, counterterrorism officials said.

The change is a significant shift in the National Security Strategy, a document that previously outlined the Bush Doctrine of preventative war and currently states: The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century…  — AP (Ha’aretz)

Well, I can understand him wanting to say “we are not fighting against Islam.” But we are fighting something and somebody. Someone killed 3000 Americans on 9/11 and someone is shooting at our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Similarly motivated someones are lobbing rockets at Israel from Gaza and preparing a massive bombardment from Lebanon. And someone in Iran is developing nuclear weapons for some reason. How can we fight an ideology that we are not allowed to name?

The AP piece continues:

The revisions are part of a larger effort about which the White House talks openly, one that seeks to change not just how the United States talks to Muslim nations, but also what it talks to them about, from health care and science to business startups and education.

That shift away from terrorism has been building for a year, since Obama went to Cairo, Egypt, and promised a new beginning in the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world.

“You take a country where the overwhelming majority are not going to become terrorists, and you go in and say, ‘We’re building you a hospital so you don’t become terrorists.'” That doesn’t make much sense, said National Security Council staffer Pradeep Ramamurthy.

My brain actually hurts from thinking about this. Certainly the US should try to have good relations with Muslim countries. But should we ignore the fact that there is a vicious strain of Islamic extremism that expresses itself by trying to kill us? And worse, that there are many — in some Muslim countries a majority — who, while they don’t physically engage in terrorism themselves, support the extremists in principle or materially?

2) Contradictory nuclear guidelines appear.

I’m not going to try to analyze the administration’s new nuclear guidelines in detail; specialists in this sort of thing say that practically speaking there will be little change. But what is the advantage of proposing something that is intended to appear as a limitation, even if in practice it isn’t? Isn’t the whole idea of a deterrent to give the impression that if attacked we will respond in a devastating way? The assertion that we wouldn’t retaliate with nuclear weapons against a biological attack (but we reserve the right to do so) is self-contradictory and confusing.

Why is Obama playing with something that has been kept substantially unchanged by the last eleven US presidents?

Can I be excused for being suspicious, even paranoid? Do I suspect that this means that the administration is laying the groundwork for dealing with a nuclear Iran, which it considers inevitable? Do I also expect more pressure on Israel to join the non-proliferation treaty and give up its own nuclear deterrent? Yes on all.

3) Obama’s imposed ‘peace’ plan is floated.

Given the way this article in the NY Times is written, we can take it as having been dictated to the friendly newspaper by the administration. Replete with references to Netanyahu’s “right-wing party”  and a suggestion that talks have been held up by Israeli intransigence on settlements — an outright lie — the piece appears to be a White House trial balloon. The plan implies an imposed settlement, possibly including US or NATO troops along the Jordan!

The most frightening part is that three out of the four presidential advisors mentioned in connection with the idea — Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft and Robert Malley — are among the most anti-Israel elements in White House circles. Indeed, Obama was forced to disavow Brzezinski during the campaign when Jewish voters complained. Dennis Ross, the most experienced and knowledgeable Mideast expert associated with the administration was not quoted or mentioned in the article.

Can’t we get Obama interested in something else? He’s really out of his depth in foreign affairs.

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Jews must be unified on critical issues

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

In my last post, I urged American Jews to take a firm pro-Israel position, because it is in their interest.

It is only very recently and only in Israel and the democratic West that Jews have been able to escape the condition of living by the sufferance of the majority, dependent upon the attitude of the rulers and the populace, upon how the wind is blowing on a given day. The presence of a strong state of Israel is at the same time a source of psychological strength and self-respect  for those diaspora Jews, as well as a practical refuge — something which has been demonstrated clearly over and over since 1948, but which for some reason is often derided by ahistorical US Jews, who seem to think that the conditions of post-1945 America will continue in aeternum.

It is fascinating to watch Western anti-Zionists rationalize their opposition to the state, as opposed to the Arabs, who simply want to conquer it, kill the Jews and take their possessions; or the Iranians, who see it as a stumbling block to their hegemony.  As they become more and more agitated, this anti-Zionism exposes itself simply as a need to put the Jews back in the ‘rightful’ place as marginal and despised creatures. But that’s another article.

What is becoming more and more clear to me, though, is that American Jews have a significant role to play in determining the future of Israel, and — since Israel really is the front line in the conflict with Islamic imperialism in the Mideast — possibly the West as a whole.

That’s a big claim, and I’m not going to try to prove it here. But I want to respond to those who say that pro-Israel people in the US should direct their arguments to the non-Jewish 98% of the US population, because there are so many more of them. Obviously it’s necessary to try to counteract the flood of misinformation and outright lies that appear in every venue. But it is also critical — critical — to try to unify Jews in favor of Israel.

The other side knows this. They know that there is no anti-Zionist argument more powerful with the American public than this: “look, even Jews oppose Israel.” For example, here is a quotation (h/t: Barney) from a recent email sent by an organization called “Jews for Justice,” apparently connected with UC Berkeley’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which wishes to place an ad in the student newspaper in favor of a resolution that the university divest from companies which support ‘occupation’:

Please stand up for justice and sign an ad in support of the divestment bill! Details below…

On April 14th, the ASUC [student] Senate will convene to decide whether or not to override the President’s veto…

NOW IS THE TIME for Jews to take a stand for justice. We seek to run a full-page advertisement in the Daily Californian student newspaper, imploring the senators to stand by their principles.

Please read the text of the advertisement below, and if you agree with it, send an email to … and state that you wish to be a signatory. In your email, please be sure to include the following:

– Confirm you are a Jew. Only Jews are invited to sign the ad…

I wonder if they would accept my parents’ ketuba as proof, or would I need to also send a photo of my circumcised organ?

Do you see? They get it. Why don’t we?

There are lots of reasons. American Jews are historically left of center, and as you know the extreme segments of the Left have adopted anti-Zionism on a par with anti-colonialism, anti-racism, anti-globalization, etc. This point of view, especially with the election of a Democratic president who is — in fact if not in word — anti-Zionist, is spreading more and more into the liberal mainstream, where most US Jews are located.

Many of these moderate, liberal or progressive Jews — take your pick — supported Barack Obama and continue to do so out of loyalty to party or a disinclination to admit their mistake.  Some, unfortunately, have internalized the anti-Israel positions that are so prevalent in academia.

We need to get over this. We need to pay more attention to who are our friends and who are not, and act — and vote — accordingly. Do we contribute to universities, and send our children to them? We should hold them accountable for the anti-Zionist politics of their faculties. Do we support public radio? Talk to them about NPR’s bias. Candidates for local office, for school boards, for state legislatures should also be considered with respect to their positions about Israel; these are the folks who control the education of our kids, who influence textbooks, who issue permits for demonstrations. A local Palestinian activist arranged for his mosque to give an award to the chief of police here several years ago — we need to do this kind of thing too.

Muslims throughout the world, Sunnis, Shiites, Islamists and nationalists, Persians and Arabs — no matter what their disagreements, and they are many and often express themselves violently — all agree to despise Zionism and Israel.

We need to learn how they’ve achieved this kind of unity on an issue!

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American Jews, take a stand

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

It’s time for Jewish Americans to stand up.

Does the state of Israel have special meaning for them, or is it just another foreign country? They should decide.

This is because the Jewish community in the US, for whatever reasons, has an influence that’s much greater than numbers (about 6.5 million) would indicate. And it’s become urgent to exert this influence in a positive direction and in a coordinated way.

It’s beginning to be clear that the relatively pro-Israel policy that the US has followed since 1967 — I say this even though I know that there have been ups and downs in this period, that some influential institutions (the State Department) have always been less than friendly, etc. — is coming to an end.

This isn’t surprising. Since before 1948, the proponents of a Jewish state have struggled against  opposition from the Arabs and from antisemites, and the founding of the state didn’t make it go away — on the contrary. Israel’s history for the  past 62 years can be seen as a series of attempts to eliminate it. Its enemies have tried various approaches, but in recent years have realized that a regional military confrontation alone won’t achieve their goal.

Israel’s enemies have come to understand that in order to win they must isolate Israel and remove the international support that has, over the years, allowed this small nation to prevail militarily over the much larger Arab armies. As everyone knows, the goal is to delegitimize Israel, to demonize her, and to split her supporters away from her. Their desired practical results are these:

  • No nation will supply Israel with the weapons or the means to develop weapons whose qualitative superiority is needed to make up for the huge quantitative advantage of the Arabs and Iranians;
  • International institutions will act to portray Israel’s self-defense as aggression and her enemies’  aggression as defense, and impose sanctions and embargoes, or even intervene militarily against her;
  • Great powers — the US, Russia, the EU — will impose diplomatic agreements on her which will weaken her strategically, strengthen her enemies, and make her more vulnerable to terrorism and asymmetric warfare;
  • Her morale and her economy will be damaged.

At first, their attempts to do this were crude, and it was necessary to overcome the reservoir of sympathy for the Jewish refugees of WWII. But little by little they’ve learned which levers to pull — the ones connected to oil, the ones related to colonial guilt, the religious ones that animate the world’s Muslims, even the subtle psychological ones which have given rise to the remarkable phenomenon of Jewish Israel-hatred, and the even more remarkable one of Israeli Israel-hatred.

The US may be the last major battleground of this psycho-war, which seems to have been more or less successful in Europe and especially in the UK. Today there is no other country but the US which could be counted on to supply Israel in time of war or to support her in the UN Security Council.

The battle is raging. Saudi Arabia, for example, has employed the best PR firms, a veritable army of former US officials, even an ex-president, and legions of academics and journalists — all in the service of chipping away at Israel’s support in the US.

Every sector of American society is targeted. Muslim and pro-Palestinian organizations on campuses maintain a continuous stream of anti-Israel propaganda, films, events, etc. Left-wing, human rights, and peace groups have almost all adopted anti-Zionism as a foundational plank of their platforms. Jimmy Carter speaks to Evangelicals who have traditionally supported Israel, explaining that Christians in the Holy Land are suffering — because of Israel. And Jews have a smorgasbord of Jewish groups that will tell them why they should oppose Israel, including of course the slick, dishonest J Street.

The Obama Administration — the President, his staff and advisors — have not been immune to this campaign. Educated at Harvard, and with associates like Rashid Khalidi, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Samantha Power, Robert Malley, etc. Barack Obama sees the Middle East through a pro-Arab lens. Obama’s recent actions — his unprecedented demand on Israel to stop Jewish building in Jerusalem, his failure to pressure the Palestinians for any reciprocal concessions, his brutal humiliation of PM Netanyahu — make this clear.

American Jews:

If you consider yourself part of a people — if it means anything to you that your ancestors were Jews — remind yourself that they were blown all over the world by the whims of non-Jewish rulers who in many cases thought they were inherently evil or subhuman. Most of you do not remember when there was no state of Israel. Most of you do not remember the insecurity of living in a world where Jews — regardless of citizenship — were regarded as beings who did not belong anywhere. A world where a Jew was nobody.

If you study recent history, you’ll learn that the reason for the persistence of the Israeli-Arab conflict is not that the Palestinian Arabs want a state, but that the Arabs do not accept the existence of a Jewish state of any size in the Middle East. You’ll learn that Israel is fully legitimate in international law. You’ll learn that the areas illegally occupied by Jordan in 1948 are not ipso facto ‘Palestinian land’. You’ll learn that Israel has given up territory and security, exposed its people to terrorism, in order to try to make peace with its neighbors — and gotten war in return.

If you are concerned about the treatment of Palestinians, remember that context is everything. Remember that every single day Israelis are shot at, stoned or are the target of firebombs thrown by Palestinian Arabs. Remember that almost every day the checkpoints that are emblematic of the ‘oppression’ of Palestinians result in the interception of a terrorist carrying explosives or weapons. Remember what happened before the hated security barrier was built: hundreds of Israelis were killed by suicide bombers in early 2002.

If you think the Israeli operation in Gaza was ‘disproportionate’, think about what it would be like to have hundreds of rockets falling on your town each week, even if they did kill ‘only’ 14 people. And also remember that almost everything in the US and international media about Palestinian casualties and Israeli actions in Gaza is a lie.

If you are concerned about justice, think about the way Israel has been slandered and falsely accused in the UN, with the incredible Goldstone Report as exhibit A.

If you consider yourself even a bit connected to Judaism, look at the Torah. More than anything else, it is about a three-sided relationship: one between God, the Jewish people, and the Land of Israel.

American Jews:

It’s time to ask if you feel a connection to the Jewish state which has been in existence for just a few years, but which is the culmination of the yearnings of the Jewish people — your people — for two thousand years.

If you do, then it’s time to stand up and tell J Street to take its Arab and Iranian funding and go to Hell. It’s time to make it clear to Obama that he will not get Jewish votes, contributions and support if he tilts toward the Arabs and treats the leaders of the Jewish state — in a sense, the representatives of the Jewish people — like nobodies.

The Jews of America — the largest Jewish community in the world — need to do this not only because they are influential, but because if they don’t support Israel, why should anybody else.

Here is the least that we, American Jews, Democrats and Republicans, should demand from any party in return for our support:

  1. The US must take the position that negotiations for a Palestinian state cannot take place until the Palestinians agree that Israel belongs to the Jewish people and that a final agreement will end all Arab claims on Israel. In addition, Palestinians must stop anti-Israel incitement.
  2. The US must reaffirm the commitments made by President Bush in 2004 that the pre-1967 lines are not sacrosanct and that refugees and their descendants should not expect to be settled in Israel.
  3. The US must reaffirm the prior understanding that Israel can build in Jerusalem.
  4. The US must refrain from trying to interfere in Israel’s political system and must show appropriate respect for its representatives.

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Obamanauts ignore facts, defame dedicated former Mideast envoy

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

I’ve said that there are elements in the Obama Administration that are seriously hostile to Israel. Here’s one example, provided by Laura Rozen of (March 28):

“He [Dennis Ross] seems to be far more sensitive to Netanyahu’s coalition politics than to U.S. interests,” one U.S. official told POLITICO Saturday. “And he doesn’t seem to understand that this has become bigger than Jerusalem but is rather about the credibility of this administration…”

Last week, during U.S.-Israeli negotiations while Netanyahu was in town and subsequent internal U.S. government meetings, the first official said, Ross “was always saying [sic] about how far Bibi could go and not go. So by his logic, our objectives and interests were less important than pre-emptive capitulation to what he described as Bibi’s coalition’s red lines.”

When the U.S. and Israel are seen to publicly diverge on an issue such as East Jerusalem construction, the official characterized Ross’s argument as: “the Arabs increase their demands … therefore we must rush to close gaps … no matter what the cost to our broader credibility…”

As to which argument best reflects the wishes of the president, the first official said, “As for POTUS, what happens in practice is that POTUS, rightly, gives broad direction. He doesn’t, and shouldn’t, get bogged down in minutiae. But Dennis uses the minutiae to blur the big picture … And no one asks the question: Why, since his approach in the Oslo years was such an abysmal failure, is he back, peddling the same snake oil?” [my emphasis]

I’ve boldfaced two statements that I want to discuss. I’ll take the second first. Dennis Ross, chief Israel-Arab peace negotiator under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, wrote a massive book about the “peace process” from 1988 through early 2001 when the enterprise crashed and burned with the launching of the second intifada (Ross: The Missing Peace, 2004). Nobody was more intimately associated with the negotiations than Ross. His “approach,” explained in great detail in the book, was to struggle to find formulas, “ideas” which would move the process forward toward a two-state solution without causing the Arabs to lose face or Israel’s security to be damaged.

At Camp David, Israeli PM Ehud Barak was pressed — by Ross — to make very significant concessions: on Jerusalem, on security arrangements, borders, etc. To a great extent Barak went along, although often against his own better judgment. Of course all the while, Yasser Arafat was paying operatives to perpetrate terrorism, making speeches in Arabic in which he called for all of Israel to become ‘Palestine’, and educating Palestinian youth to yearn for martyrdom in the struggle.

When President Clinton finally pushed Arafat to decide, to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, there was no way Arafat would go into reverse — and probably no way that he could, given the expectations that he had created. The rest, as they say, was history, as Arafat began the intifada that was to result in the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians — as well as the death of the idea that a compromise peace was achievable along the lines of a two-state solution.

To blame Dennis Ross or his “approach” for the failure of Oslo shows a disregard for the facts of recent history which is truly frightening, coming from a “U.S. official.”

Even more pernicious, though, is the first statement. The accusation that Ross puts Israel’s interests — or worse, Netanyahu’s own partisan coalition interests — ahead of those of the US is nothing less than slander of a very dedicated and professional diplomat. Some commentators even call it an accusation of ‘dual loyalty’ against Ross, who happens to be Jewish.

Ross’ argument, even when stated by a decidedly unfriendly witness, makes sense. Insofar as the Palestinians exploit US-Israel differences — such as the issue of building in Jerusalem — to give then an excuse to refuse to enter negotiations and to make ever more extreme demands, then we should try to reduce those differences. Especially, I might add, when those differences are based on new demands on Israel introduced by the Obama Administration!

Indeed, if the Administration is concerned with “credibility” with its allies, it shouldn’t screw them by reneging on previous commitments. But then the hallmark of this administration’s policy seems to be to help its enemies and hurt its friends, and apparently it only cares about its credibility with one side.

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Today, Jerusalem. Tomorrow, security.

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports,

JERUSALEM—Several high-profile former U.S. officials, some with close ties to the Obama administration, met with leaders of the Palestinian militant group Hamas in recent months, raising hope inside the group that its views are being heard at the White House.

White House officials and participants in the talks emphasize the meetings weren’t sanctioned by Washington. U.S. officials say there has been no change to Washington’s insistence that Hamas take a number of steps before official dialogue can begin.

Still, the talks have been interpreted by some officials inside Hamas, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which is run by the Palestinian Fatah party—a rival to Hamas—as a sign Washington may be softening its position toward Hamas…

Such informal “track two” meetings aren’t uncommon between former U.S. officials and Hamas. But the ex-officials involved in recent talks are seen as higher-profile figures in Washington’s diplomatic establishment. They are also seen as enjoying more foreign-policy heft with the administration than U.S. officials in the past.

“This administration is different from the previous administration,” said Hamas’ deputy foreign minister, Ahmed Yussuf, said in an interview. “We believe Hamas’s message is reaching its destination.”

“There were many meetings like this” in the past, Mr. Yussuf said. “But now, we know the people coming to see us are so much more connected to the White House.”

The US may also be planning to soften its stance toward Hizballah. Barry Rubin has described a letter he received from the Center for American Progress, an Obama-friendly think tank, in which his view on US engagement with Hizballah is solicited:

I read this letter—and that impression is confirmed by those knowledgeable about this project and those involved—as saying that the Center for American Progress is going to issue a report calling for U.S. engagement with Hizballah, and that it has been encouraged to do so by important officials in the Obama Administration…

They merely, I am told by those who know about this project, intend to talk to some who disagree for appearances’ sake and throw in a sentence or two to give the report the slightest tinge of balance.

Add this to the recent warming of relations between the administration and Syria, the lack of anything more than talk about Iran, and stir in the ‘crisis’ in relations with Israel manufactured by the administration, and we can perceive a troubling trend.

Since diplomacy is about give and take, let’s ask what the US expects to get from Hamas and Hizballah, and what it has to give in return.

The main thing it is not going to get is ‘moderation’. Hizballah, which exists in order to try to convert Lebanon from a multi-religious confederation into an Islamic state, a part of the Shiite caliphate to be established by Iran, as well as to act as the long arm of the Iranian regime in expunging US influence — that means Israel — from the Middle East, will not agree to deny its essence. Nor will Hamas, whose essence is a single-mindedly antisemitic project to rid the Middle East of ‘Zionists’.

But there’s a lot that the US can give them.

Hizballah, which has killed more Americans than any other terrorist group except al-Qaeda, wants protection against Israel. The Bush administration gave Israel a green light for several weeks in 2006 to crush Hizballah — which unfortunately the incompetent Olmert team was unable to do — but both sides are gearing up for another round. This time the political echelon — Netanyahu and Barak — are no fools militarily, and the weaknesses of the IDF that had developed over the years leading up to 2006 have been addressed. With all the rockets, new weapons and aggressive talk, Hizballah knows that once the tanks start to roll, only the US can save it.

Hamas desperately wants international recognition as a representative of the Palestinians, so that some or all of the huge amount of aid that flows to the parasitic Palestinian establishment will go to them, so that they can obtain more weapons and build a more powerful army with which to fight the Zionists. They want US pressure on Israel to open the blockade of Gaza for the same reason. And, like Hizballah, they want the US to intervene in the event of conflict.

Just as the Obama Administration has broken with the past and reneged on understandings with Israel in regard to Jerusalem and settlement blocs, one can expect that the American commitment  to Israel’s security is not inviolate either. Promised weapons that are critical to a war with Hizballah have not been delivered.

At the beginning of last year, Israel was informed that the IDF would be out of Gaza before Barack Obama’s inauguration. J Street, which closely coordinates with the administration, called for an immediate cease-fire at the very start of Operation Cast Lead.

Is there any reason to think that Obama will act differently when the next war — likely a two-front affair with both Hamas and Hizballah — begins?

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