Archive for March, 2012

Who’s the racist colonialist, anyway?

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012
Roosevelt meets Ibn Saud, 1945. "Give them Germany," he said.

Roosevelt meets Ibn Saud, 1945. "Give them Germany," he said.

Recently I was present at an event at which a pro-Israel speaker was presented with a hostile ‘question’. The questioner insisted that Israel had engaged in planned, deliberate ethnic cleansing in order to dispossess the “native Palestinian people,” and continues to maintain an apartheid state. Israel was racist in essence and should not be a state. Like a magician calling up demons, he finished with a recitation of the names of the shades from which he drew his power: Shlaim, Pappé, Morris, Flapan, etc.

The recent BDS gathering at the University of Pennsylvania and the one-state conference at Harvard establish the theme: the very idea of a Jewish state is racist, and this particular state, born in an essentially racist act of colonialism, should be dismantled.

It isn’t relevant for the refutation of these ideas, but it is nevertheless interesting to note that there is no conference at an Ivy League university calling for the dismantling of any number of essentially racist states with questionable origins. Saudi Arabia, for example, was founded in 1932 after Ibn Saud, Sultan of Nejd, violently conquered the neighboring state of Hejaz (the center of the Islamic world, where Mecca and Medina are located).

The conquest included the massacre of the male population of the city of at-Ta’if. Since then, Saudi Arabia has been one of the most religiously intolerant of the world’s nations, a place where Christians are forbidden to build churches or bring Bibles, and Jews are forbidden to enter. As recently as 2004, the official Saudi website listed “Jewish persons” as one of the groups not welcome to travel there.

But let’s get back to the efforts to delegitimize Israel. Unlike Saudi Arabia, the Jewish state has a charter in international law: the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, which included the Balfour Declaration as an integral part. And here we note an inconsistency in the position of the delegitimizers:

Despite the fact that they often appeal — improperly, but that’s a different issue — to “international law” in regard to ‘occupation’ and settlements, they do not believe that the Mandate grants any justification to the Jewish state, because it is a “colonialist document” and therefore invalid.

The people we are dealing with, while prepared to use the traditional concept of international law when it serves their purpose, actually subordinate it to postcolonial dogma. They believe that the world is divided into the colonizers and the colonized, and the latter are always right. This makes it possible for them to ‘understand’ Palestinian terrorism while finding Jewish  self-defense unacceptable.

There is a post-colonial theory of history, too. It implies that ‘truth’ is relative to ideology, specifically to post-colonial ideology. Ilan Pappé, one of the demons conjured by the heckler I mentioned, has said explicitly that his idea of historical truth is determined by his politics.

This sort of ‘flexibility’ makes it difficult to argue with the delegitimizers. Pappé and Morris have both been in trouble for taking quotations out of context, reversing their meaning, or even just making them up in their ideological zeal to ‘prove’ that Israel committed deliberate ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Arabs.

I think that we have to take a different approach, and that is to attack the postcolonial model itself, or at least to show that it does not apply to the Israel-Arab conflict.

While the early Zionists were Europeans, they came to make a life for themselves, not to exploit the resources of the land for the benefit of a foreign power. They did not land with superior technology and use it to enslave or exploit the Arabs, but in general lived on the same or lower economic level as the Arab residents.

There was not a thriving indigenous population when the Zionists arrived. Much land was owned by absentee landlords, and disease and Ottoman taxation made life difficult. Little by little, conditions improved as a result of Zionist enterprise and to some extent outside capital.

Probably the main reason for the increase in the Arab population in the area of the Mandate from about 400,000 in 1893 to 1.3 million in 1947 was economic development due to the activities of the Zionists.

By the time the Mandate came into being, anti-Jewish agitation for ethnic and religious reasons had begun among the Arabs. The British authorities (the real colonialists) tended to favor the Arabs, and responded to Arab violence by taking successive steps to limit Jewish immigration — in contradiction to the letter and the spirit of the Mandate.

The British appointed the Jew-hating Haj Amin al-Husseini as Mufti of Jerusalem, the so-called Nazi Mufti, who would later make common cause with Hitler. Husseini incited riots and pogroms against the Jews, including the 1929 Hebron massacre. By the time WWII started, the British had more or less sealed the doors of Palestine against Jews, certainly dooming tens of thousands to Hitler’s ovens.

So far, I fail to see colonial oppression of Arabs by Jews. What I see is oppression, indeed murder, of Jews by Arabs and British colonialists. But let’s continue.

After the war, as the Zionists pushed for Jewish sovereignty in some part of the Mandate, the Arabs — both the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab nations — were absolutely livid at the prospect. When Roosevelt met King Saud in 1945, the King was adamant that Jewish refugees should not be allowed to settle in Palestine (“give them Germany,” he said). Roosevelt was shocked at his vehemence.

In 1947, the fighting between the Jews and the Palestinian Arabs began even before the UN partition resolution was passed in November. Of course the Arabs rejected it, absolutely opposing any proposed solution that involved Jewish sovereignty over any part of the land.

In 1948 Israel declared independence, was attacked by several Arab nations (who were not intending to establish Palestinian sovereignty but wanted to control the area themselves) and ultimately defeated them. In the process between 600,000 and 750,000 Arabs fled, for various reasons. At the same time — and continuing for the next few years — about 800,000 Jews in Arab countries were also forced from their homes, because they were Jews.

Jews living in the portion of Palestine that was occupied by the Jordanian army (with the help of British colonialist officers) were massacred or driven out at gunpoint.

At this point the postcolonialist historians step in and support the false narrative by arguing that the majority of Arabs who left were driven out by force in a deliberate act of ethnic cleansing. Since there is no real evidence for this, they invent it. And they mostly ignore the fate of the Jews of East Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the Arab world.

The most that can be said is that some Arabs in hostile towns (especially along the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem where they were harassing attempts to relieve blockaded Jerusalem)  were forced out. But the ‘master plan’ to create an Arab-free Israel did not exist, and quotations from Ben Gurion that the Arabs must be expelled have been shown to be faked.

The fact that the Arab leadership initiated riots, pogroms, and ultimately war cannot be ignored, nor can that of the cooperation between Husseini and Hitler, the plan to establish extermination camps for Jews in Palestine, or the vile way in which the British tried to thwart the promise of the Mandate.

Throughout it all, what was pervasive was the racist Arab persecution of Jews: the pogroms of the 1920’s, the riots of the ’30’s, the refusal to countenance Jewish sovereignty anywhere in Palestine, the expulsions from Arab-occupied lands, the cooperation with Hitler. And of course this took place against a background of British colonialism, as that nation tried to secure Middle Eastern oil and its route to India.

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Clinton: Candidates pander to Zionists, just ignore them

Monday, March 5th, 2012

This is (unfortunately) too good to hold back (h/t: Challah Hu Akbar):

In my previous post I said that politicians tailor their speeches to their audiences. Well, get a load of this snippet from a “Town Hall with Tunisian Youth” held by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on February 25 of this year (emphasis added by me):

QUESTION: My name is Ivan. After the electoral campaign starts in the United States – it started some time ago – we noticed here in Tunisia that most of the candidates from the both sides run towards the Zionist lobbies to get their support in the States. And afterwards, once they are elected, they come to show their support for countries like Tunisia and Egypt for a common Tunisian or a common Arab citizen. How would you reassure and gain his trust again once given the fact that you are supporting his enemy as well at the same time?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me say you will learn as your democracy develops that a lot of things are said in political campaigns that should not bear a lot of attention. There are comments made that certainly don’t reflect the United States, don’t reflect our foreign policy, don’t reflect who we are as a people. I mean, if you go to the United States, you see mosques everywhere, you see Muslim Americans everywhere. That’s the fact. So I would not pay attention to the rhetoric.

Secondly, I would say watch what President Obama says and does. He’s our President. He represents all of the United States, and he will be reelected President, so I think that that will be a very clear signal to the entire world as to what our values are and what our President believes. So I think it’s a fair question because I know that – I sometimes am a little surprised that people around the world pay more attention to what is said in our political campaigns than most Americans, say, are paying attention. So I think you have to shut out some of the rhetoric and just focus on what we’re doing and what we stand for, and particularly what our President represents.

Thank you, Ms. Clinton, for responding to the ‘fair question’, and making sure that we Zionists understand not to listen to what the candidates say, but to pay attention to what they really stand for. Perhaps we should apply this advice to your boss as well.

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The AIPAC speech

Monday, March 5th, 2012
Obama speaks at AIPAC yesterday.

Obama speaks at AIPAC yesterday.

Politicians tailor their speeches to their audiences, so President Obama’s AIPAC speech will represent the most pro-Israel interpretation of his positions.

It is very important for him to improve his relationship with the pro-Israel segment of the US Jewish community before the election. This is an older demographic, Jews who vote and donate to their party — and many of them live in the important swing state of Florida. Many of these Jews would very much like to vote for Obama because of his social and economic policies, but are deterred by the anti-Israel image that he has developed.

So despite the fact that Jews make up 1.7% of the population (and Jews that care about Israel less than this), it is important for the President to woo these voters. There is also a large community of pro-Israel Christians, but they overwhelmingly lean Republican, and his stance toward Israel is only one of many reasons that they dislike Obama.

The AIPAC speech is the best we will get; even if Obama does not explicitly renege on his commitments, the interpretation of them as actual policy after the election will be somewhat less positive. Keep in mind that many administration functionaries are actively hostile to Israel.

So let’s look at the important points of the speech.

First, there are a lot of statements about “America’s unbreakable bond” and the the President’s “unprecedented” commitment to Israel’s security. While they produce a warm feeling, they do not imply specific actions. They are vague enough that they have been used to justify, for example, pressuring Israel to make dangerous concessions to the Palestinians. With all due respect, this is fluff which is best ignored.

Second, the President devotes significant time to rehearsing the ways in which his administration has supported Israel. Again with all due respect, he is unconvincing.

Yes, his administration vetoed an anti-Israel resolution in the Security Council, but then Ambassador Susan Rice made a speech supporting the substance of the resolution. Yes, military assistance and security cooperation with Israel have been maintained, but this is not something new — Obama simply continued the policies of previous administrations and the dictates of Congress. Yes, the US supported Israel’s right to stop the blockade-breaking Mavi Marmara, but so did the UN’s Palmer Commission. And then the US pressured Israel to stop its economic warfare against Hamas, thus effectively converting the flotilla affair into a Hamas victory.

I think we also must remember the message sent by the President’s Cairo speech, in which he compared the Palestinian lack of a homeland (that is, their inability to destroy Israel) with the Holocaust, as well as his visits to numerous Muslim nations while pointedly avoiding Israel.

Lest we forget, Barry Rubin provides a partial list of some of the less-supportive aspects of administration policy:

For example, on Iran there were his long attempts to court Iran and failure to support the opposition; his slowness on pushing forward sanctions; efforts to reduce congressional sanctions’ proposals; and giving a free pass to Russia, China, and Turkey to break the sanctions.

On Syria, there was his courting of the Syrian regime despite its repression, antisemitism, and sabotage of peacemaking which continued until the revolution within the country forced him to reverse course, at which point his administration supported a Muslim Brotherhood-led opposition leadership.

And then there’s the history of the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” policy that always gave the Palestinian Authority a pass and put the onus on Israel; all the events you know about;  the dissing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; the pressure on Israel to dismantle sanctions on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, and so on.

Finally, and most serious, is the policy toward revolutionary Islamists and their rule or takeover of Turkey, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.

Third, regarding the ‘peace process’, Obama reiterates his position that a two-state agreement with the Palestinians is urgent, despite the fact that that no Palestinian faction has agreed to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or commit to an end of the conflict. In the face of the galloping success of radical Islam in the region — including, very significantly, the certainty of Islamist control of Egypt and the de facto abrogation of the Camp David agreement — Obama makes the absurd assertion that “the changes taking place in the region make peace [read: Israeli withdrawal from the territories] more important, not less.”

There is no doubt that in a second term, Obama would continue to pressure Israel to make an ill-advised deal with the Palestinians.

Finally, and most critical, is what he promises concerning Iran.

He talks about his success in implementing sanctions. But in fact Congress and the Europeans took the lead, dragging the administration along. Most importantly, sanctions, while certainly having an effect on the Iranian economy, cannot force the Iranian regime to give up its project. They are leaky, and the dictatorial Iranian regime can divert resources from civilian purposes almost without limit. It will create unrest, but so what? The regime has already shown itself capable of shooting protesters in the streets.

There is only one way to stop Iran without actual military action: to make a credible threat of such action, a statement that “if you do x, then we will attack you.” But here is what the President said:

I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. That includes all elements of American power: a political effort aimed at isolating Iran, a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored, an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.

Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.

What does he threaten here? A military effort to be prepared, not to act. And a general threat to use force when necessary to defend our interests, without defining the precise point at which those interests are violated. There is nothing new or particularly significant here.

It does not count as a credible threat to use force to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Without an American threat and since sanctions will not cause Iran to give up its program, only an Israeli attack (or threat thereof) can do so.

I do not think that the US should commit itself to go to war to defend Israel, which can defend itself. I do think that the prospect of an Iranian bomb is bad enough for US interests that we should be prepared to do whatever is necessary to prevent it. But I understand that the disastrous decisions of the previous administration to invade Iraq and to prosecute the war there as it did, as well as continued mistakes in Afghanistan by the present administration, have made it politically very difficult for the US to strike Iran today.

Therefore, from the standpoint of Israel, the best that can be expected from the US is a commitment to support Israel’s right and ability to take whatever actions it believes to be necessary to ensure its survival. What did Obama say that relates to this?

No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction…

I know that Israeli leaders also know all too well the costs and consequences of war, even as they recognize their obligation to defend their country…

Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States – just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs…

He seems to be saying saying that he will understand if Israel takes a decision to attack Iran. That is nice, but he has left open the question of what support the US would provide in that case. Such support could range from supplying bunker-busters or tankers or even providing midair refueling services (assuming that American tankers are capable of refueling Israeli planes), all the way to participating in an attack.

He has also not indicated how far he will go to pressure Israel to not attack. Other voices in the administration have recently been quite clear that it does not want to see an Israeli strike. Obama says that he thinks that diplomacy and sanctions should be given more time. At some point Israel will no longer agree with him. What then? It’s reasonable to expect that PM Netanyahu will ask him to be specific on these points at their meeting today.

Overall, there is nothing new or especially encouraging in this speech. Unless Obama makes some commitments to Netanyahu above and beyond what is here, Israel will be required to face the challenges of its enemies alone.

As always.

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Ahlam Tamimi is the true face of the Palestinian Cause

Friday, March 2nd, 2012
The woman responsible for the Sbarro Pizza bombing now hosts a talk show on "Quds TV"

The woman responsible for the Sbarro Pizza bombing now hosts a talk show on "Quds TV"

A few words about Ahlam Tamimi, who was recently released as part of the Gilad Shalit swap.

On July 30, 2001, Tamimi, who was 20 years old, placed a bomb built into a beer can in a Jerusalem supermarket. The can was packed with explosive material plus rivets to serve as shrapnel — a home-made grenade. In order to avoid detection by security guards, she changed her clothes to look like a tourist, wearing a short top and pants. As she entered the store she pretended to be having a telephone conversation in English so that her handbag was not searched.

She placed the bomb on a shelf with similar beer cans, armed the device, and left the store. The bomb exploded, but although a large amount of damage was done, nobody was nearby. Here is a short snippet from an unofficial translation of some of the charges against her:

When the accused reached her home, she sent a message from her cellular phone to Mahmoud Daghlas [who provided the bomb] in which she expressed sadness that in the attack which she had carried out no-one had been injured, and apologized for it.

Because the explosion of the beer can had not caused any injuries, the accused told Mahmoud Daghlas that she demanded the devices be checked. The accused also said that if the results of attacks would be like this attack, devoid of injured persons, she would refuse to place further devices.

Her next operation was more ‘successful’. She selected the Sbarro Pizza restaurant as its site. On August 9, 2001, she brought a bomb built into a guitar by Hamas bomb-maker Abdallah Barghouti (who is still in an Israeli jail, although  his release was also demanded as part of the Shalit deal) to suicide bomber Izz-a-din al-Masry. She took al-Masry to the target in a taxi, gave him his final instructions, and left the scene. Al-Masry’s explosion ended the lives of 16 people, including 8 children.

For this she received 16 life sentences, one for each victim. She always insisted that she had no regrets, and would do it again if she had the opportunity.

Here is one of several videos available of interviews given by the charming Tamimi:

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It is chilling to us to watch her smile as she is told that she murdered not 3 children, but 8. But it is important to understand that this woman is not a psychopath. She is quite simply convinced of the justness, indeed, the divine righteousness, of her cause.

Not only is she not a deviant psychologically, she is not one sociologically. One of the conditions of her release was that she would be exiled to Jordan, where she was treated to a hero’s welcome. She now hosts a TV talk show concerned with the plight of the remaining Palestinian Arab prisoners in Israel.

Ahlam Tamimi is the true face of the Palestinian Cause.

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Thursday, March 1st, 2012
So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side.

So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. -- Ex. 17, 10-12

I was recently honored by being asked to give a little talk about this Shabbat’s Torah portion to a minyan that I participate in. I thought my blog readers would find it interesting, too.

Since this is the week before Purim, there is a special maftir from Deuteronomy, one that is highly relevant to our situation today:

“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.” – Deut. 25, 17-19

Amalek appears throughout the Tanach, always the bitterest enemy of the Jewish people. Amalek fought against Moses, Saul and David, often apparently destroyed, but always coming back to fight again. Haman was said to be a descendent of Amalek, and more recently so have Hitler and Ahmadinejad.

Historically there may have been Amalekites, but it’s not clear that the various biblical references relate to a single people. Probably not. But the concept of an Enemy is a natural one, an antithesis to the concept of a People.

Perhaps you can’t really define a people without also defining its enemies. Certainly many believe that if the Jews could get rid of the idea of peoplehood, then they wouldn’t have enemies. Shimon Peres likes to refer approvingly to “world citizenship,” as though it is an antidote to endless war with Amalek. In his 1993 book “The New Middle East,” he wrote that “In Western Europe, particularist nationalism is fading and the idea of ‘citizen of the world’ is taking hold,” and “The entire idea of the small national state – the Jewish state included – has collapsed …”

The experience of the 19th century assimilationists and post-Oslo Israel tells us that this strategy doesn’t work in the real world. Even if we refuse to remember Amalek, he remembers us. And if we don’t have the support of self-conscious peoplehood (and its concrete representation, the Jewish state), how can we fight him?

The Book of Commandments (ספר המצוות) lists three commandments related to Amalek:

  1. To remember Amalek (a positive commandment)
  2. Not to forget Amalek (a negative one)
  3. To destroy Amalek completely (the commandment Saul violated when he allowed Agag to live)

There are various explanations for the difference between 1 and 2 above. I like this one: 1 says that we must remember that we have enemies today who wish to destroy us. And 2 tells us not to drop our guard tomorrow – this situation is not going to change. As the quotation from Deuteronomy indicates, we must not forget Amalek, even when the Jewish people are sovereign in the land of Israel (this seems to be the part Shimon Peres doesn’t get).

What does it mean that we are required to “blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven?” It cannot mean that we are required, like Saul, to exterminate a tribe. Even if there was at some time a distinct  tribe of Amalek, it has long since disappeared as a distinct population. For this reason the rabbis warned us not to take this commandment literally.

I think – and it is appropriate that we are reading this parsha during Israel Apartheid Week – that what we are required to “blot out” are the false narratives of our enemies: the stories that they tell about the ‘crimes‘ of the Jewish people and Israel, including but not limited to

  1. Deicide
  2. Causing the Plague
  3. Making matza from human blood
  4. Controlling international finance and media
  5. Dispossessing Arabs and stealing their land
  6. Killing Mohammad Dura
  7. Committing war crimes in Gaza
  8. Imposing an apartheid regime

Our enemies today attack the Jewish people violently when they can, but they are not strong enough by themselves to damage us severely. Today’s Amalekite strategy is to bit by bit assassinate the truth about us, to create an image of an evil people in illegitimate possession of the land, in order to create a coalition that at best will stand by when we are assaulted and at worst actively prevent us from defending ourselves.

To summarize, here is how I would interpret the commandments relating to Amalek today:

  1. Always be vigilant and prepared
  2. Don’t be fooled by visions of peace through surrender
  3. Tell our story loudly and fight the false narratives

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