Archive for January, 2011

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

When the unrest — the revolutionary activity, really — in the Arab world began, some of us thought: well, at least this will put and end to the crazy ‘linkage theory’ — the idea that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs is somehow the root of all the troubles of the Mideast.

Do you remember the Iraq Study Group Report of 2006? It sounds quaint now, but here is some of what it recommended:

Iraq cannot be addressed effectively in isolation from other major regional issues, interests, and unresolved conflicts. To put it simply, all key issues in the Middle East—the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iraq, Iran, the need for political and economic reforms, and extremism and terrorism—are inextricably linked. In addition to supporting stability in Iraq, a comprehensive diplomatic offensive—the New Diplomatic Offensive—should address these key regional issues. By doing so, it would help marginalize extremists and terrorists, promote U.S. values and interests, and improve America’s global image…

The United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict. — Iraq Study Group report, pp. 44-54

Hard to believe, today, that anybody could still believe that when they can see both reformers and Islamists struggling to overthrow dictatorial conservative regimes (not that the reformers are likely to win, or that the Islamists won’t also be dictatorial). Well, believe. The obsession with Israel is so strong that the obsessed will manage to twist reality to whatever degree necessary. Here is ‘Mideast expert’ Robert Malley, interviewed on NPR yesterday:

Mr. ROBERT MALLEY (Program Director for Middle East and North Africa, International Crisis Group): I think what we’re seeing in Tunisia and Egypt and Yemen and elsewhere is not just protest about living conditions, about poverty, about…

[NPR host Guy] RAZ: Regimes.

Mr. MALLEY: …about regimes. It’s also the symptom of a sense of powerlessness, of impotence, of humiliation, lack of dignity that the Arabs have felt now for a long time. But in particular over the last period where you’ve seen the war in Iraq, we have seen the dismantlement of the Palestine Authority during the Second Uprising Intifada. You now see the humiliation, the Palestinians are not able to get anything from Israel. — NPR

To which my response has to be: “huh?”

You might also think that the nefarious ‘Israel Lobby’ can take a rest as well. But M. J. Rosenberg blames it for keeping Mubarak in power:

Few would argue that the imminent collapse of the Mubarak regime (and other Middle East dictatorships) derives from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Neither Egyptians nor Tunisians are risking and losing their lives for Palestinians. They are doing it for themselves. They want freedom.

But the hatred for America that the revolutionaries feel stems in large part from our support for the occupation and the regional dictators who help enable it. And that support stems entirely from the lobby’s power to intimidate policymakers.  — TPM Café

It’s true that the average Egyptian cares little about ‘The Occupation’. He just plain hates Israel, Jews and the US, thanks to the antisemitic Egyptian media, which have been waging war on them since the days of Nasser and which were encouraged to continue to do so by the Mubarak regime. You’d think that if Mubarak was kept in power by the Lobby, it would have found a way to get him to end the incitement, wouldn’t you.

As a matter of fact, most likely the only thing the reformers, ‘moderates’, Islamists, and everybody else in the Arab world can agree on is that Israel is the Devil and needs to be destroyed. A good argument can be made that as a matter of fact, it’s this attitude that prevents peace between Israel and the Arab states and Palestinian Arabs.

And it’s not been very helpful to the Arab in the street either, who finds his regime using the conflict with Israel as an excuse for repressive measures against opponents, especially reform-minded ones, and for funneling money into military buildups instead of improving the general welfare. Of course then the regime turns around and blames Israel for everything from high prices to inadequate electrical service.

Here’s a bright spot: the Mubarak regime has weakened the Egyptian military by appointing political cronies to all the high positions. Despite the American weapons, you still need competence to fight a war, and you won’t find much of that in Egypt today.

Oh well, the new Arab regimes may turn out to be greater or lesser threats than the old ones (my money is on ‘greater’, I’m sorry to say). But some things never change. It’s almost comforting in this time of upheaval that they’ll still continue to hate us as before, and that their spokespeople in the West will continue to invert reality and twist the truth to come up with the same old conclusions.

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Egyptian connections

Saturday, January 29th, 2011
Demonstrator waves Egyptian flag -- in Cairo? No, in Yafo, next door to Tel Aviv!

Demonstrator waves Egyptian flag -- in Cairo? No, in Yafo, next door to Tel Aviv!

The world-shaking events (yes, it’s not an exaggeration) happening right now in Egypt have triggered a few related ramblings:

Remember the ‘linkage theory’ — the idea that the Israeli-Arab conflict was the ‘root’ of most of the trouble in the Mideast, and that ‘solving’ it (by establishing a Palestinian Arab state, of course) would usher in an era of peace and stability?

Do you think this would affect the unrest in Egypt — or for that matter, in Tunisia, Yemen, Algeria or Lebanon?

Maybe the strains between conservative Arab dictatorships and their liberal (weak) and Islamist (strong) oppositions play a role? Or maybe the project of the Islamic Republic of Iran to establish its hegemony in the region has something to do with it?

Could it possibly be that some of this is actually not Israel’s fault? Hard to believe, I know.

And here’s a corollary: the proposition that the Israeli-Arab conflict itself could be solved by ‘ending the (1967) occupation’.  Here’s a little piece of conflict that happened today, in Yafo (Jaffa), which has been part of Israel since 1948:

About 1,000 Jaffa residents hit the streets Saturday to protest the “phenomenon of Jewish settlement” in the mixed city located just south of Tel Aviv.

Muslim and Christian residents, as well as Jewish left-wing activists, are charging that religious settlers who moved to Jaffa are abusing Arabs in town and stirring provocations.

Many protestors carried Egyptian and Palestinian flags, chanting “Allahu Akbar” and “we’ll liberate Jaffa with blood.” …

“Only through Intifada and mutiny can revolutions be achieved,” [an Arab protester] said. “Jaffa is just like Cairo for us.”  — YNet

My goodness — here they are objecting to ‘Jewish settlers’ in a city that has been part of Israel since 1948! It makes one wonder what they mean when they call for ‘ending the occupation’.

Here’s another Egyptian connection: the historic 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt has proved in practice to be little more than an extended cease-fire. Radicals associated with the Muslim Brotherhood murdered President Anwar Sadat for signing it, and have called for its abrogation ever since.

The Mubarak government, in consideration of billions in aid from the US each year, has avoided direct conflict with Israel. But it has refused to allow ordinary Egyptians to visit Israel, allows massive antisemitic incitement in its media — Mein Kampf is a bestseller and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was serialized for TV — and continues to make anti-Israel and anti-American statements on a regular basis. Its army holds maneuvers each year in which Israel is the putative enemy.

This regime has not been a great bargain, not for the US and not for Israel, which gave up the very strategic and potentially economically important Sinai for it. But if a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated regime were to get power — and keep in mind that it is the second most powerful force in Egypt, after the army — then it would likely tear up the treaty (it would also be an enemy of the US).

Can you imagine another Israeli-Egyptian war? Especially after Egypt has pumped huge amounts of aid into high-quality American weapons? It wouldn’t be pretty, not for either side. But that’s what’s at stake there.

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About 1,000 Jaffa residents hit the streets Saturday to protest the “phenomenon of Jewish settlement” in the mixed city located just south of Tel Aviv.

Muslim and Christian residents, as well as Jewish left-wing activists, are charging that religious settlers who moved to Jaffa are abusing Arabs in town and stirring provocations.

Many protestors carried Egyptian and Palestinian flags, chanting “Allahu Akbar” and “we’ll liberate Jaffa with blood.”

Egyptian flag in Jaffa (Photo: Ofer Amram)

One Jewish protestor, Matan Kaminer, said that demonstrators “need to learn from the Egyptian people how to rise up. Maybe that way our struggle will succeed.” An Arab protestor, Said, added: “Both in Egypt and in Israel they are trying to continuously, methodically repress the people in the same way. We fully support the Egyptian people’s struggle against the corrupt regime there.”

“Only through Intifada and mutiny can revolutions be achieved,” he said. “Jaffa is just like Cairo for us.”

More on J Street’s Birthright trip

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Yesterday I wrote about the Birthright trip supposedly to be led by J Street U, the campus branch of the phony ‘pro-Israel’ organization J Street. I urged readers to write to Birthright and The Israel Experience, the ‘trip provider’ said to be organizing the tour for J Street.

Birthright responded to me that they were looking into the matter. An official of The Israel Experience responded to a reader, saying

Neither Birthright nor the Israel Experience are providing a JStreet trip. (rumors)

At first I thought that the press release from J Street U’s director, Daniel May, which appeared in several blogs (see here and here) was a hoax, because it didn’t appear on either the J Street or J Street U site. But one of the bloggers kindly pointed me to the signup page for the tour on J Street’s web site.

So here’s what I think:

Someone at J Street thought that it would be clever to trade on the good name of Birthright — after all, how could Birthright allow an anti-Zionist group to lead a tour? — and at the same time exploit the funding provided by truly pro-Israel donors and the Israeli government. The plan was to bring young people to Israel where they could meet with left-wing Jews and anti-Zionist Arabs, who would present to them J Street’s fundamentally anti-Zionist point of view.

But they apparently ‘forgot’ to ask Birthright before announcing the program!

This is a maneuver characteristic of J Street, which essentially exists to dishonestly use Jewish resources against Israel. So it accepts donations from well-meaning liberal Jews while also receiving funds from extreme left-wing sources such as George Soros and from individuals connected to Arab interests and Iran.

I have asked Birthright and The Israel Experience to publicly disavow any connection to J Street or J Street U. Email addresses are in my previous post, if you want to do the same.

Update [1126 PST]: I received the following (unsigned) email from Birthright:

JStreet has been asked to remove this page.

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Action alert: Don’t let J Street exploit Birthright

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

No program has been more effective in creating Zionist consciousness in Jewish young people than Birthright. Israel really is a vital, democratic, modern and generally cool place, so sending kids there for ten days for free is the best way to arm them against the barrage of anti-Israel propaganda they face at college or among their ‘progressive’ friends.

So naturally this had to happen:

J Street U is very happy to announce that we will be leading a free, ten-day Taglit-Birthright trip this summer titled, “Explore Israel: Progressive Zionism and Social Justice.”

This trip is an incredible opportunity to connect with the Israel that isn’t on the front page or in the guide books. Move beyond the headlines, and see what’s really happening on the ground…

The trip is a chance to appreciate the vibrancy of Israel’s history, culture and landscape from a perspective that acknowledges your Jewish and progressive values.

The best way to discover the richness of Israeli society and the full contours of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to travel around Israel and meet people from the diverse groups of the region. There is simply no substitute for seeing the land and connecting with the people.

On the trip, we’ll speak with members of Israeli civil society working to advance the goals of democracy and human rights. Our itinerary will provide a cross-section of Israeli opinion.

This trip is a gift of Taglit-Birthright Israel and will be provided by The Israel Experience, Ltd. — J Street press release (my emphasis)

In other words, the phony ‘pro-Israel’ organization J Street, a group that takes money from people associated with Saudi Arabia, the Arab-American institute,  Iranian interests, anti-Israel billionaire George Soros, a mysterious woman associated with the guy who beat the Hong Kong horse-racing track, and the Turkish producer of anti-Israel propaganda films; whose co-founder called the creation of Israel ‘an act that was wrong’; and which facilitated meetings between members of Congress and Judge Richard Goldstone, author of the notorious Goldstone report that accused Israel of deliberately murdering civilians in the Gaza war  — this organization has the chutzpah to use funds provided by Taglit-Birthright to sabotage its purpose!

J Street U, the campus branch of J Street which will be guiding the students on this trip, stopped calling itself ‘pro-Israel’ because

“We don’t want to isolate people because they don’t feel quite so comfortable with ‘pro-Israel,’ so we say ‘pro-peace,’” said American University junior Lauren Barr of the “J Street U” slogan, “but behind that is ‘pro-Israel.’”

Barr, secretary of the J Street U student board that decided the slogan’s terminology, explained that on campus, “people feel alienated when the conversation revolves around a connection to Israel only, because people feel connected to Palestine, people feel connected to social justice, people feel connected to the Middle East…”

What is J Street U? Its National Board President U is a Middlebury College student named Moriel Rothman. Here is how he explains the controversy around the Sheik Jarrah / Shimon haTzadik neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Pay attention not only to his words, but his tone:

…the Jerusalem municipality has been bending to the will of fanatic Jewish settlers, and producing -based on archaic documents from the Ottoman period and manufactured Israeli law– eviction notices to a number of Palestinian families, and in some cases -such as with three families in Sheikh Jarrah- acting on those eviction notices by force and removing those Palestinian families from their homes. The municipality’s actions are hugely problematic from a moral standpoint: not only are Jews buying up and/or stealing Arab land in East Jerusalem, but Arabs are moreover unable to buy land in the primarily Jewish West Jerusalem… These policies are also hugely problematic from the standpoint of peace, as East Jerusalem must be the capital of the future Palestinian state, and the Clinton Parameters, which state that Palestine will get control of Arab neighborhoods and Israel will control Jewish neighborhoods, are made harder and harder to implement with each infiltration of Jewish settlers into Arab neighborhoods like Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah.

This is what they call “progressive Zionism!” If you ask me, it has ‘progressed’ to the point that it can’t be distinguished from Arab propaganda — Ali Abunimah could have written that paragraph.

Now I am not saying that, distasteful as it is, an anti-Zionist organization like J Street U can be prevented from leading a trip to Israel in which young people will meet various Jewish left-wing extremists and Arab anti-Zionists, perhaps participate in a demonstration or two, and in general see the country through the eyes of those who hate it.

But I think it is highly inappropriate that funds that have been given to Taglit-Birthright by Zionists like me and by Israeli taxpayers should be used to pay for it!

So I suggest that you contact Birthright — you can email them at and ask them if they think that the anti-Zionist organization J Street U should be allowed to lead a Birthright trip.

Birthright works through ‘trip providers’ like The Israel Experience Ltd, in Israel — a subsidiary of the Jewish Agency. You can email the Deputy Director-General of TIE, Eran Applebaum at, and ask him if he thinks his organization should be helping J Street to damage Israel.

Do it now. I have, and I’ll report on any results.

Update [27 Jan 1307 PST]: This press release may have been a hoax. It does not appear on the websites of either J Street U or J Street. I found it in two blogs, here and here. Both of the writers took it seriously, but I’ve been told that Birthright denies that there will be such a trip!

Update [1629 PST]: It’s for real. Here’s the signup page.

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A new Middle East arrives, sooner than expected

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Whew. Reality is outstripping the media’s ability to deal with it at all, not to mention interpret it accurately. Several major events in the Middle East that will have serious consequences are all happening at once:

First and worst: Hizballah now controls Lebanon. Jonathan Spyer manages to find one positive thing to say:

From an Israeli point of view, Hizbullah’s move into plain view may also bring advantages. For a long period, the non-Hizbullah “government” of Lebanon functioned for the Shi’ite Islamists as part cloak, part human shield.

The emerging situation looks set to have the virtue, by contrast, of clarity. This would raise the possibility of the next clash between Israel and Hizbullah taking on the unfamiliar dimensions of a state to-state conflict. — Jerusalem Post

Well, he may have a point there, but consider that Lebanon, once a democracy, is now a full-fledged client state of Iran, ruled by an extremist Islamist party. Lebanese Sunnis and Christians are disenfranchised. The West loses one (of course, it’s been ‘losing’ Lebanon for a long time, but now it’s final).

Second, and probably-going-to-be-bad: Egypt. Whether the violent protests there will turn into a true revolution is unclear. But if they do, the history of revolutions (viz. 1789, 1917, 1979) indicates that rarely do they bring better government (the American revolution wasn’t really a revolution, it was a secession) — usually the most ruthless party carries the day. In Egypt, that probably means the Muslim Brotherhood, yet another extremist Islamist party.

Even if this blows over, Hosni Mubarak is 82. How long will he continue to control Egypt, a country of 80 million, with the world’s 10th largest military — one which is armed with high-quality American equipment?

Protests have also been occurring in Jordan. The King has announced moves to improve the economy, but of course that will not help insofar as his opponents are Muslim-Brotherhood Islamist types, who don’t care a fig about the economy. There have been demonstrations in Algeria and Yemen as well.

The Tunisian revolution which first inspired the unrest hasn’t run its course. It remains to be seen what kind of regime will replace the corrupt dictatorship of former President Ben Ali. Most commentators think it won’t be Islamist. Don’t bet on it.

Third, consequences still unclear: The Palestinian Authority (PA). The PA has been buffeted by an attack launched by Aljazeera, probably orchestrated by the Iranian bloc. The so-called ‘Palestine papers’ will not have much effect on the image of Israel in the West — partisans on both sides are already interpreting them in accordance with their own positions — but they have wrecked the position of the PA in the Arab world and boosted Hamas.

Here are some interesting facts about the ‘papers’ from Barry Rubin:

1. Most of the routine material comes from actual documents but not the “interesting” parts that everyone is talking about.

2. That still does not mean that these documents accurately reflect what happened since they are the version of PA officials

3. On a number of specific points and on all the points being publicized the claims made are so ridculous that these [documents] must have been altered.  The texts read almost like a satire themselves in which someone set out to write a narrative in which the PA gave everything and got nothing in return. Indeed, the picture is so exaggerated that it should be obvious these claims are phony. But of course that assumes that people were going to use logic and know something about the issues…

4. In addition, the Guardian and al-Jazira often distort what is in the documents to exaggerate it even more. Some of the specifics are really absurd like the legalistic-minded Tsipi Livni saying she is against international law and even saying she planned to expel Palestinians from Israel after an agreement.

5. Yet almost all of the media uncritically quote these distortions.

6. Some even add new items that were neither in the documents nor in the original coverage. The most notorious example is the claim that the PA recognized Israel as a Jewish state.  — Rubin Report

It will be interesting to see if the US will be able to continue supporting the PA. Of course, keep in mind that the ‘papers’ discredit the PA in Arab eyes by purporting to show that they are not an extremist organization, and are willing to compromise!

These three events represent the dawning of a new Middle East — unfortunately one in which both democratic and conservative non-Islamic forces have lost ground to radical Islamism. And one which isolates Israel even more.

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