Archive for January, 2011

How to look stupid and be irrelevant

Friday, January 14th, 2011

News item:

DOHA, Qatar — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a scalding critique of Arab leaders here on Thursday, saying their countries risked “sinking into the sand” of unrest and extremism unless they liberalized their political systems and cleaned up their economies.

Speaking at a conference in this gleaming Persian Gulf emirate, Mrs. Clinton recited a familiar litany of ills: corruption, repression and a lack of rights for women and religious minorities. But her remarks were striking for their vehemence, and they suggested a frustration that the Obama administration’s message to the Arab world had not gotten through.

“In too many places, in too many ways, the region’s foundations are sinking into the sand,” she said to a stone-faced audience of foreign ministers, businesspeople and rights groups. “The new and dynamic Middle East that I have seen needs firmer ground if it is to take root and grow everywhere.” — NY Times

Clinton can get as “vehement” as she likes, but if she and her partners in the Obama administration honestly believe the problems facing the Middle East stem from economic corruption and lack of political freedom, I despair.

Where are the ‘I’ words — ‘Islam’ and ‘Ideology’ — which correctly name the reasons for the degree of conflict swirling around the region, both internally and between it and the West?

Maybe she is afraid to speak these words and risk alienating her already “stone-faced” audience, so instead she says things like this:

Those who cling to the status quo may be able to hold back the full impact of their countries’ problems for a little while, but not forever … If leaders don’t offer a positive vision and give young people meaningful ways to contribute, others will fill the vacuum.

Extremist elements, terrorist groups and others who would prey on desperation and poverty are already out there, appealing for allegiance and competing for influence. — (the Times article continues)

Yes, they are out there, but it isn’t because leaders don’t offer a “positive vision.” It’s because Islamist groups offer a powerful and attractive ideology which promises to sweep away everything that’s wrong with their society in their view, everything that has been corrupted by its contact with the poisonous West.

Mrs. Clinton’s Western concepts, like “equality for women and religious minorities” are the last things that could win over young people influenced by Islamist ideology, who see them as blurring essential distinctions that are part of the proper structure of the world, and part of the reason for the evil and spiritual corruption that characterize the West.

Imagine trying to tempt, for example, a dedicated revolutionary to betray his ideals by offering him a high-paying job and a house in suburbia. It’s hard enough. Now imagine that he has a religious motivation, and imagine that it is strong enough under some circumstances that he is willing to blow himself up to advance it.

The article mentions the crisis in Lebanon, a country where — at least in some places — women are ‘liberated’ and the economy, in between periodic wars brought about by ideology, booms. This week, its government was brought down by Hizballah, a movement representing the revolutionary Shia Islamist ideology of Iran.

Until our leaders begin to understand the actual forces acting in the Middle East, they will continue to look stupid and to be irrelevant.

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Loose ends

Friday, January 14th, 2011

It’s Friday, so I thought I’d string together a few loose ends — what a great mixed metaphor!

A couple of days ago I wrote about Avigdor Lieberman’s initiative to establish a parliamentary committee of inquiry to investigate foreign funding of left-wing NGOs:

Can you imagine the outcry if an American NGO which called for opening the border between the US and Mexico turned out to be funded by the Mexican government? And keep in mind that the question of illegal immigration to the US is not (yet) an existential threat. Nobody is firing rockets across the Rio Grande. — FresnoZionism

Well, there are those in Israel who feel that, despite the severity of the problem, Lieberman’s approach is counterproductive. Here is what Gerald Steinberg of the organization NGO Monitor — which has been doing a  tremendous job in connecting the dots between NGOs and Israel’s enemies — wrote yesterday:

The brief and stormy discussion in the Knesset last week demonstrated the intense political nature of this initiative, and the ease with which substantive research is pushed aside by simplistic slogans, from both ends of the ideological spectrum. For the Right, NGOs that use the language of human rights are all portrayed as enemies of Israel, without distinction, while the Left (including NGO officials) seeks to prevent all criticism and debate as “anti-democratic.”

When MK Faina Kirschenbaum (Israel Beiteinu) introduced the motion to establish the parliamentary inquiry, she claimed that Arab governments and terror groups are among the major funders of the NGOs responsible for “lawfare” campaigns that seek to label Israelis as “war criminals.”

NGO Monitor has not found documented evidence for either claim, although it is possible that such secret funding exists.

In contrast, we have shown the massive and often secret funding for highly political NGOs from European governments, and the European Union in particular. Europe, which preaches democracy and good government to others, blatantly violates the basic rules of funding transparency and open debate. An impenetrable shroud of secrecy hides all aspects of the processes by which the EU funds groups such as Yesh Din, Adalah, PCATI and many Palestinian groups. — Gerald Steinberg, Jerusalem Post

I also included a video clip of a Palestinian TV ad, paid for by the government of Spain, calling for a boycott of all Israeli products, and suggesting that Israel bears the responsibility for violence between Jews and Arabs. It turns out that the Spanish government didn’t approve of the content of the TV ad they paid for:

“We are the victims of this fraud,” said Alvar Iranzo, Spanish Ambassador to Israel, although he had not yet contacted the PA for an explanation. The Spanish consulate in Jerusalem would follow up on the matter, he explained, describing the ad as “in frontal opposition to the [Spanish] government’s opposition to any boycott of Israeli goods, much less a blanket boycott like the one insinuated in the video.”

A senior PA official who wanted to remain anonymous told the Jerusalem Post that the ad would be “corrected” and that “someone made a mistake,” calling for the boycott of all Israeli products, while they intended to call only for boycott of products from “Jewish settlements.” — Palestinian Media Watch

Oh — just the “Jewish settlements.” Imagine my relief.

Another item in the news the last couple of weeks was the death of Jawaher Abu Rahma, allegedly from inhaling tear gas used to suppress a violent demonstration in Bili’in. The best information developed by an IDF investigation shows that Abu Rahma was not present at the demonstration, but was in or near a house 500 meters — more than a quarter mile — away. She had been receiving treatment at a Palestinian hospital for an unspecified serious illness, and died as a result of this treatment.

Of course those who believe that the IDF always lies, and that Palestinian Arabs tell the truth, continue to believe that she was murdered. And this case joins so many others, in which fabricated stories have been reported as true in the press:

• Most famously, there is the case of Mohammed Al-Dura in September 2000. The many inconsistencies in the France 2 report blaming Israeli soldiers for his death have been documented extensively.

• Following the winter 2008-09 Gaza war, Khaled Abed Rabbo of Abed Rabbo in the northern Gaza Strip gave numerous completely contradictory accounts concerning the deaths of his daughters,

• In April 2010, there was the case of Muhammed Faramawi, 15, who was said to have been shot “by Israeli forces” and “left bleeding for hours” before Israel allowed paramedics to evacuate him, has emerged, alive and well after having been held by Egyptian authorities.

• In May 2008, Muhammad al-Harrani, a father of six from Gaza diagnosed with cancer who reportedly died while waiting for a permit to enter Israel, miraculously “came back to life.”

• In July 2003, Palestinian sources blamed the death of four Gaza men on Israel, when it later came to light that they died in a so-called “work accident,” i.e., while preparing explosives.

• An April 2002 staged funeral in Jenin, in which pallbearers drop a stretcher with a corpse, who falls off, and climbs right back on the stretcher.


Unfortunately, even after such stories are shown to be false, and (sometimes) grudging corrections appear in mainstream media, they hang on, often embellished, in blogs and alternative media like Pacifica Radio.

Finally, another thing on my mind is the crisis in Lebanon. Hizballah has brought down the government and is threatening civil war unless the Lebanese PM, Saad Hariri, disavows the UN Special Tribunal which is expected to present a report which accuses Hizballah of having a part in the murder of his father, Rafik.

It’s a power play which might even trigger war with Israel, although it’s highly unlikely that the Iranian regime, which controls Hizballah, wants it to get that far, preferring to use the threat of Hizballah’s rockets to deter an Israeli attack on its nuclear program. But violence can be hard to control. Here’s an excellent explanation of the situation, by Jonathan Spyer.

I’m ending a short visit to Israel now, about to endure the 15-hour direct flight back to Los Angeles. Yesterday I was at the Western Wall, and numerous beggars asked for charity, saying (inaccurately) “tomorrow is Shabbat.” Now it’s true, and I wish my readers a Shabbat shalom.

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JCPA doesn’t speak for all US Jews

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA, not to be confused with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a think-tank) describes itself thus:

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), the united voice of the organized Jewish community, was formally established in 1944 by the Council of Jewish Federations, the forerunner of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). The JCPA was known for many years as the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC). The name was changed to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs in 1997 to reflect more accurately the agency’s mission. — JCPA website

The idea that there could even be a “united voice of the organized Jewish community” is doubtful. But the Jewish Federations are a major presence in many Jewish communities, raising a large amount of money. Some of it goes to local charitable uses, and some of it to the Jewish Agency and Joint Distribution Committee — organizations which were central to rescuing the remnants of European Jewry after the war, as well as Jews from Yemen, Ethiopia, etc. The Federations have always been Zionist, if sometimes less than efficient.

I happen to be a board member of our local Jewish Federation, and I’ve served as treasurer for the last three years. I had never heard of JCPA until a few months ago, when the group sent our Executive Director an email to distribute to the membership. I was a bit bothered by what I thought was a liberal tilt to the message and felt that it might alienate some of our Republican donors. After all, the Jewish Federations should be about helping Jews in trouble anywhere in the world, and introducing domestic politics would be a distraction.

And nobody ever asked the members of our Jewish Federation whether they agreed with the policies of the JCPA, the “voice of the organized Jewish community.” Do you pick up on a bit of chutzpah here?

The CEO (since 2005) and President (since 2009) of JCPA is Rabbi Steve Gutow. A Reconstructionist Rabbi, Gutow is also “founding Executive Director” (although he does not hold the position now) of the National Jewish Democratic Council, whose mission is frankly partisan. How am I going to explain this to our Republican donors?

But there is a much bigger problem.

The JCPA’s website presents staunchly Zionist principles. But one of the speakers for its Plenum in March, 2011 is Peter Beinart. Peter Beinart? The guy that suggested that young American Jews are not pro-Israel because Israel is undemocratic, racist and militaristic?

They are paying this guy to speak with my money (about half of their budget comes from Federation allocations)?

This is less surprising when you note also that JCPA’s Washington Director from 2005-2009 was none other than Hadar Susskind, presently “Director of Policy and Strategy” for the phony ‘pro-Israel’ organization J Street!

Beinart, J Street, and others are attacking Israel from within the American Jewish community, trying to change the meaning of being ‘pro-Israel’ as it was traditionally understood by groups like AIPAC, etc., as supporting Israel’s policies as determined by its democratic government. The new meaning seems to be that Israelis don’t know what’s good for themselves, and need to be forced to move in the direction approved by the Obama Administration.

This point of view is emphatically rejected by most of the “organized [or not so organized] Jewish community” in the US.

To be clear, I am not accusing JCPA of being in the same pot with J Street (yet). I am saying that

  • a group that advertises itself as the voice of the organized Jewish community should understand that these Jews are found everywhere on the domestic political spectrum, and
  • a group that advertises itself as Zionist should be very, very careful about its connections with people and organizations that are trying to invert the meaning of ‘Zionism’, like Beinart and J Street.

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Americans don’t get it about Israel, again

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

News item:

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman lashed out harshly at left-wing organizations and their supporters Monday, in statements that his opponents said added to a mood of incitement prevalent in the country.

Lieberman condemned the NGOs targeted by a proposed parliamentary committee of inquiry as “aiding terror groups” and called right-wing politicians who opposed the establishment of the committee “traitors” to the national camp.

During a televised faction meeting on Monday afternoon at the Knesset, Lieberman said that “it is clear that these are simply terror-aiding organizations, whose entire goal is to weaken the IDF and its determination to protect Israel’s citizens.” — Jerusalem Post

In yesterday’s Ma’ariv, the  Im Tirtzu organization, which last January created a storm by revealing that a majority of the anti-IDF ‘evidence’ underlying the Goldstone Report was provided by a few left-wing NGOs funded by the US-based New Israel Fund (see here, here, and here), released a report exposing the connections of these NGOs to a Palestinian ‘welfare’ organization funded by Arab states:

The report states that the organizations’ yearly budget, which is estimated at tens of millions of dollars, comes from a number of sources: Countries and organizations in Europe – including the European Union, Sweden, Switzerland, Holland and Denmark – as well as Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria and Qatar.

According to Im Tirtzu, large banks, such as the Islamic Development Bank, as well as Arab funds, also allocate money to the Welfare Association and the NGO Development Center, which then transfer 97% of the funds to Palestinians in the territories and some 3% to leftist Israeli organizations. — YNet

These groups and their supporters counter by claiming that Lieberman and others are attempting to ‘suppress dissent’, engaging in McCarthyism’, etc.  Unfortunately, this criticism resonates in the US, where many people — especially liberal Jews — are quick to demand that Israel behave like an ideal Platonic state despite the real and immediate threats it faces. For example, the Union for Reform Judaism issued a press release titled “Knesset Decision Undermines Israel’s Democratic Values” which included the following:

The recent initiative [to establish a Knesset committee to investigate left-wing NGOs] undermines Israel’s place in the global community and is a source of concern to the Jewish community throughout the world and to Israel’s friends everywhere.

Israel has always been a vibrant democracy that supports the right of every citizen to speak freely and that encourages volunteer organizations to express their views, critical or otherwise, about all aspects of Israeli society. The activity of human rights organizations in Israel is a tribute to Israel’s democratic values and strengthens her democratic character. — URJ press release

As always, I have to repeat that Israel is not the US. Israel does not have 300+ million people and span a continent with oceans on either side. Israel is today the target of an international campaign of vilification whose objective is to reduce her ability to defend herself against her enemies, who today have tens of thousands of missiles aimed at its population centers from launchers just a short distance from her borders.

Much of this campaign is financed from Europe. Here is an outrageous example from our friends in Spain:

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The Israeli NGOs in question work assiduously to collect the most damaging accusations against Israel, and then publicize them as if they are verified facts. They organize demonstrations and file lawsuits. They do everything they can short of actual violence to impede the operations of the IDF. They provide cover — since they are Israeli sources — for vicious demonization of Israel and the IDF.

Can you imagine the outcry if an American NGO which called for opening the border between the US and Mexico turned out to be funded by the Mexican government? And keep in mind that the question of illegal immigration to the US is not (yet) an existential threat. Nobody is firing rockets across the Rio Grande.

Americans should understand that whether or not they find the rhetoric of Mr. Lieberman congenial, there is a real conflict here between the right of free expression and the need to protect the state and its citizens. It is absolutely unacceptable here, or anywhere else in the world, to allow foreign entities to finance subversive groups.

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Ideology counts, too

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

George Friedman runs “Stratfor,” which has been called a “private CIA”. For $349/year, he’ll send you predictions about the next military coup or bankrupt European country, and apparently there are enough “individuals, Fortune 100 companies, government agencies, and other organizations” to provide for him and several employees. His about-to-be-released book The Next Decade will therefore probably be influential (the introduction is here).

Which is too bad.

And here’s an example of why. He writes,

Recovering from the depletions and distractions of this effort [the attempt to end terrorism, the Iraq and Afghan wars] will consume the United States over the next ten years. The first step—returning to a policy of maintaining regional balances of power—must begin in the main area of current U.S. military engagement, a theater stretching from the Mediterranean to the Hindu Kush. For most of the past half century there have been three native balances of power here: the Arab-Israeli, the Indo-Pakistani, and the Iranian-Iraqi. Owing largely to recent U.S. policy, those balances are unstable or no longer exist. The Israelis are no longer constrained by their neighbors and are now trying to create a new reality on the ground. The Pakistanis have been badly weakened by the war in Afghanistan, and they are no longer an effective counterbalance to India. And, most important, the Iraqi state has collapsed, leaving the Iranians as the most powerful military force in the Persian Gulf area.

Restoring balance to that region, and then to U.S. policy more generally, will require steps during the next decade that will be seen as controversial, to say the least. As I argue in the chapters that follow, the United States must quietly distance itself from Israel. It must strengthen (or at least put an end to weakening) Pakistan. And in the spirit of Roosevelt’s entente with the USSR during World War II, as well as Nixon’s entente with China in the 1970s, the United States will be required to make a distasteful accommodation with Iran, regardless of whether it attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities. These steps will demand a more subtle exercise of power than we have seen on the part of recent presidents. The nature of that subtlety is a second major theme of the decade to come, and one that I will address further along. [my emphasis]

The first thing I noticed is that he doesn’t mention radical Islamism except in connection with al-Qaeda. Apparently he understands the behavior of regimes purely in terms of power relationships, and so he doesn’t view the tectonic shift in ideology toward radical Islamism that characterizes the Muslim world today as relevant.

This makes it possible for him to think that an accommodation between the US and Iran — the nexus of the Shia version of expansionist Islamism — can provide an advantage for the US. But Iran will exploit any concessions to advance its ideologically driven agenda, even if it is disadvantageous in traditional terms (economics, etc.).

Sometimes ideology counts. Not every diplomat, especially an Iranian, is Henry Kissinger.

The other thing that struck me is that he entirely fails to understand Israel. He writes,

The Israelis are no longer constrained by their neighbors and are now trying to create a new reality on the ground.

Israeli policy remains what it has been for almost 63 years, which is to provide for a secure Jewish state. A ‘new reality on the ground’ was created in 1967 as a result of one of the periodic failures of the Arab world to destroy Israel, but there is nothing comparable that might occur today. Indeed, Israel has lost ground to its enemies in the past few years, with the growth in the capabilities of the Iranian proxies on its borders and the increasing pressure from the US and Europe to cede territory to the Arabs.

There isn’t a ‘balance of power’ between Israel and the Arabs. There is simply ideologically-based aggression in one direction and defense in the other.

Friedman’s prescription to dump Israel in favor of Iran and Pakistan will increase the hold that radical Islamism has over the region and further reduce the influence of the US. This is as if he were to have suggested in the post-WWII era that the US should not oppose Soviet expansionism in Europe.

There is a fundamental ideological/religious conflict between radical Islamism and the West, and coexistence can only come about through deterrence. Western retreats will only give rise to additional Islamic demands. What the US must do to keep its influence in the Middle East is project its power to contain Iran. Israel is the front line in this struggle.

The very knowledgeable David P. Goldman (‘Spengler’) says this about Stratfor:

Friedman’s thriving business targets a key market niche: corporate types with geopolitical exposure who are too busy or too ill-informed to use Google.

That about covers it.

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