Archive for October, 2012

Talking to American Jews about Israel

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Part of my job — not my paying job, the one I do for the sake of shamayim — is to talk to my Jewish friends and try to explain why the existence of a Jewish state is essential for all Jews, wherever they live, why a good relationship with the US is essential for Israel, and why the support of American Jews is in turn essential for such a relationship.

I meet a lot of resistance, which is unsurprising when you consider that if you leave aside Arabs and other Muslims, the worldwide movement to end the Jewish state is disproportionately led by people of Jewish descent. Here are some of the reasons it can be tough to be a Zionist in America:

The politicization of Israel

My job recently got a lot harder because of the introduction of Israel as an issue in Republican-Democratic politics. President Obama (for multiple reasons that I won’t go into here but have written about at length) is no friend of Israel. His administration and informal advisers also lean toward anti-Zionism, some of them pretty sharply.

The Republicans have noticed this, and have made a pitch for Jewish votes. So now, any discussion about Israel becomes a discussion about Obama vs. Romney.

That is very unfortunate, because Jews are still overwhelmingly liberals, and criticism of Obama’s attitude and policy toward Israel is understood as “Republican propaganda.” Many liberal Jews seem to think that ‘Republican’ means ‘right-wing’ means ‘fascist’ means ‘Nazi’. Even if they don’t go that far, some of the social and economic positions of today’s Republican party are anathema to liberals.

The universities

The difficulty is even greater with academics or those who would call themselves ‘progressives’, to distinguish themselves from mere liberals. In their case I need to overcome the post-colonialist worldview, in which Israel is treated as a Western colonial power, oppressing the third-world Palestinians. This makes Israel the bad guy from the beginning, and excuses almost any degree of Arab violence as “resistance to oppression.”

Many Jews have university degrees, which means that they have been exposed to this ideology during their intellectually formative years. Since the 1960′s, the concept of academic freedom has come to mean permissiveness toward political activism, even radical activism, in the classroom.

Media bias

Liberal media, like the New York Times, MSNBC, NPR, the Huffington Post, etc. almost invariably slant their reporting in an anti-Israel direction. Progressive media, like Pacifica Radio, simply present the Arab or Iranian line, repeating accusations of Israeli wrongdoing as fact and ignoring or whitewashing violence against Israelis. If you watch or listen to this stuff all day, it sinks in.

The effect of the media is amplified by the ‘information bubble’ phenomenon: because it simply feels good to have one’s opinions confirmed, people seek out media that confirm their opinions. So liberals listen to NPR and conservatives to Fox News. They choose friends with like ideas for political conversations. Living in an ideological information bubble reinforces their views. It’s a positive feedback loop.

The human brain

Jonathan Haidt, in his excellent book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, explains some of the reasons why it is so hard to change a person’s mind about ideological issues. One is that political opinions stem from moral intuitions that are primarily emotion-based, not the result of rational argument. These emotion-based moral intuitions happen immediately upon perception; only later does a person come up with arguments to justify his belief. Reasoned arguments work against other arguments, but don’t touch the underlying intuitions.

Haidt uses an analogy of a rational rider on an emotional elephant. The rider can try to influence the elephant, but mostly he comes up with reasons to explain the direction the elephant chooses to go.

How many times have you heard “I grant your facts and understand your reasoning, but I just don’t see it that way?” That’s the elephant talking!

Another reason is confirmation bias. Psychological research has shown over and over that humans have a tendency to focus on evidence that supports their beliefs and ignore evidence that challenges them. This is why scientists sometimes stick to discredited theories despite clear evidence against them (luckily for us, other scientists work hard to find disconfirming evidence for theories that they oppose).

What can be done?

Here are a few lessons:

It will never be possible to disconnect Israel from US politics, but soon the election will be history. The focus should always be on policies, not personalities. And it is a poor idea to mix Israel with other issues. I once read a persuasive article about why Obama’s policy was anti-Israel, which closed with a negative remark about Obamacare. Stupid.

It is important to be in touch with what is happening on campuses, oppose egregious politicization of supposedly academic activities, and fight to prevent the resources of universities from being used for anti-Israel purposes. Arab and Iranian interests fund departments and programs to serve their interests; Zionists should do the same.

There are numerous organizations opposing bias in the mainstream media. It’s also necessary to develop alternative media, but strongly partisan approaches will not be effective because of the information bubble phenomenon.

Finally, involved arguments about (for example) Israel’s rights under international law are less effective than appeals to fairness, Jewish self-determination, etc.

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The European problem with Zionism

Friday, October 26th, 2012

The always-perceptive Daniel Gordis explains the significance of the ludicrous and stunningly narcissistic decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the dysfunctional European Union:

The Nobel Committee noted that “the dreadful suffering in World War II demonstrated the need for a new Europe.” Who understood that better than the Jews, millions of whom had been exterminated in Germany and Poland with little response from the rest of the world? But as they staggered out of what remained of postwar Europe, the Jews drew conclusions about their future that immediately put them at odds with Europe’s forward-thinkers.

European intellectuals decided that the nation-state was a model that needed to be relegated to the ash heap of history; the Jews, in contrast, decided that the only thing that would avert their continual victimization was creating a nation-state of their own.

So naturally, Gordis continues, the Europeans dislike Jewish nationalism — Zionism — and its concrete realization, Israel:

Thus, the Jewish state, without question the world’s highest-profile example of the ethnic nation-state, emerged onto the international stage just as Europe decided that the model had run its course. That is why historian Tony Judt called Israel “an anachronism,” urging that it be dismantled.

Widespread European disdain for Israel, while certainly fueled by both the enduring Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Muslim immigration to Europe, was thus all but inevitable.

Yes, Israel affords civil rights and freedom of worship to its many minorities; but it makes no attempt to deny that there is one specific people, one particular narrative, one religion to which is it most centrally committed. The State of Israel is, to paraphrase Lincoln, “by the Jews, of the Jews and for the Jews.” How could those who labored to create the European Union not consider the very idea of a Jewish state anathema?

Of course, Gordis is right. And not only does the EU’s ideological problem with Israel express itself at the UN and in the EU’s expensive support for the Palestinian cause, but a continuing (and also expensive) attempt to subvert Israel’s democratic government by funding extreme left-wing NGOs in Israel.

In fact, it’s not only the Europeans, but many who call themselves ‘progressives’ in the US who criticize Israel for its Jewish nationalism, which they wrongly characterize as ‘racism’. Here in America, the Left can put its money where its anti-Zionist mouth is by donating to the New Israel Fund.

Gordis politely leaves it as an ideological disagreement and goes on to suggest that

Zionism, Israel’s leaders must begin to insist, should not be seen as the last gasp of a discredited worldview, but rather as a millennia-old claim that human difference is noble and that the preservation of ethnic distinctiveness is a deep-seated and natural human aspiration.

I certainly agree, but how can I fail to notice that it is only Jewish nationalism that evokes such a negative reaction on the part of the Europeans and the Left? They don’t seem to have a problem with ethnic homogeneity in countries like Japan (which is now dealing with foreign workers who don’t want to go home in a poor economy), nor to a great extent with the ethnic chauvinism of Arabs, the doctrine of Muslim superiority in Islamic nations, or the real and blatant racism in Saudi Arabia or the Sudan.

No, I’m afraid that there’s more to it than just an ideological disagreement!

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Bank of China may have helped Hamas kill Jews

Thursday, October 25th, 2012
A book from the library of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, March 2008

A book from the library of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva, March 2008

Terrorist groups, like Hamas, the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, are enterprises like businesses, non-profits, and government agencies. Hamas, in fact, is a government, controlling the 141 square miles and 1.7 million people of the Gaza Strip.

Human enterprises are organisms with systems for sustenance, logistics, command and control, etc. They also have ideologies, and that of Hamas calls for violent jihad against the Jewish state. Its usual tactic is murderous terrorism against Jewish civilians. So, in 2008, a Hamas terrorist entered the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem and murdered eight students, seven of them teenagers, and wounded many others.

Enterprises can’t survive without nourishment. Hamas is nourished by a worldwide network of governments, Islamic charities and individuals that support its goal of killing or dispersing the Jews.

But the existence of the sources of nourishment isn’t enough. Since Hamas is a recognized as a terrorist organization and sanctioned by the US and other nations, there are impediments to transferring funds to it which can be translated into weapons, ammunition and jihadist expenses.

Sometimes this is facilitated by ‘respectable’ enterprises that are officially opposed to terrorism and murder, but in fact do whatever makes them a buck.

Like the Bank of China, according to the Israel Law Center — Shurat HaDin, which has filed a $1 billion lawsuit in a New York court accusing the bank of materially supporting Hamas terrorism.

The plaintiffs allege that starting in 2003, the national Chinese bank executed dozens of wire transfers for Hamas totaling several million dollars. These transfers were initiated by the Hamas leadership in Iran and Syria, processed through BOC branches in the United States and sent on to a BOC account in China operated by a senior militant. From there, the funds were transferred to Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

In April 2005, Israeli counterterrorism officers met with officials from the Chinese Ministry of Public Security and China’s Central Bank. The Israelis demanded that the Chinese officials take action to prevent the BOC from making any further such wire transfers. “Despite these warnings the state-owned bank, with Beijing’s approval, continued to wire funds for terrorism, all while declaring that they did not consider Hamas a terrorist group,” stressed [Shurat HaDin director Nitsana] Darshan-Leitner. [my emphasis]

According to the complaint: “Most of these wire transfers were made to account #4750401-0188-150882-6 at a Bank of China branch in Guangzhou, China, in the name of ‘S.Z.R Al-Shurafa.’ The owner of the account, Said al-Shurafa, is a senior officer and agent of both Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.”

The Bank of China has released a statement saying, in effect, that they would never dream of doing anything to help terrorists. But the complaint is persuasive in its argument that the bank’s officials had plenty of information about what Hamas was doing with the money it was transferring.

This would not be the first time that Shurat HaDin — a private legal organization — has struck a blow for victims of terrorism. In May, it obtained a $330 million judgment against Syria for its part in a 2006 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed a 16-year old American. Although Bashar al-Assad is unlikely to pay it, it can be enforced against Syrian assets like bank accounts and real estate in the US.

Will the families of the Mercaz HaRav massacre victims be compensated? Maybe or maybe not, but if Israeli officials were unable to get the Bank of China’s attention in 2005, they have it now.

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Morsy is no secret Zionist!

Monday, October 22nd, 2012
The controversial letter from Mohammad Morsy to Shimon Peres

The controversial letter from Mohammad Morsy to Shimon Peres

News item:

Muslim Brotherhood leader Ahmed al-Hamrawy resigned from the group and its Freedom and Justice Party to protest a letter introducing the new Egyptian ambassador to Israel.

The letter was addressed from President Mohamed Morsy to Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Hamrawy, former secretary general of the Lawyers Syndicate in Alexandria, described the letter as “national and religious treason,” and added it a waste of the blood of the Egyptian and Palestinian “martyrs” from 1948 until the present day.

The article continues that there has been a great deal of criticism of the friendly tone of the letter, written to Israel’s President Shimon Peres. Some Egyptian Islamists even claimed that he didn’t write it, that it was a Zionist “fabrication.” But, interestingly, more radical Salafist elements understand that pretending to be friendly to enemies is a legitimate Muslim tactic:

Essam Zahran, former MP for the Salafi-oriented Nour Party, described the writing style of Morsy’s letter to Peres as similar to the letters sent by Prophet Mohamed to Byzantine Emperor Heraclius.

Zahran told Aswat Masriya, a political website, that what Morsy did “has its origin in Islam.”

He described the letter as “following the example of Prophet Mohamed, when he addressed the Byzantine leader, saying ‘from Mohamed the Prophet of Islam to Heraclius the Byzantine greatest,’ and the relations between Muslims and Byzantines then were very similar to our relationship with the Israelis now.”

“The way of writing the letter,” Zahran continued, “does not mean at all satisfaction of the presidency or the Islamic current with the Israeli policies toward our brothers in Palestine. We still see it as a usurper entity that has established their state on the ruins of another state.”

In Muslim tradition, the letter in question called on Heraclius to become a Muslim, and warned him that if he did not do so, “he would be guilty of misleading his subjects.” Apparently he he did not accept Islam, and his forces were defeated by the Arabs at the Battle of Yarmouk (Syria) in 636. The following year, the Muslims conquered Jerusalem.

But just in case you still think that Morsy is a secret Zionist, here is Morsy praying last week with cleric Fotouh Abd Al-Nabi Mansour. At about 25 seconds into the video, you can see Morsy’s lips move in prayer as Mansour says “Oh Allah, destroy the Jews and their supporters:”

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Update [24 Oct 2012 2258]: MEMRI changed the translation in the video above. It no longer says “destroy the Jews,” merely “deal with the Jews; disperse them and rend them asunder.” Fine with me.

Update [25 Oct 2012 1000]: Apparently the distribution of the clip has caused embarrassment for Morsy. MEMRI explains:

In his daily column, Dr. Osama Al-Ghazali Harb of the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram discussed a MEMRI TV clip that shows Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi attending Friday prayers on October 19, 2012, at a mosque in the city of Marsa Matrouh, nodding his head and answering “amen” as the preacher curses “the Jews.” According to Harb, the clip is an embarrassment for Mursi and embodies the dilemma he faces, obliged as he is to honor the peace agreement with Israel by virtue of his office, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, to take into account the majority view on the Egyptian street, which is opposed to the agreement. [my emphasis]

A transcript of Harb’s column is provided.

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The October non-surprise: secret talks

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

On Friday, I called attention to a report that the US and Iran had made a secret agreement to end sanctions in return for a halt or pause in uranium enrichment. I suggested that this could be an “October Surprise:” the Obama campaign could claim that the President’s policy of partial sanctions and “tough diplomacy” had forced the Iranians to back down from their march toward nuclear weapons.

In fact, I said, such a deal would be more likely to guarantee the success of the Iranian program than to stop it. But by the time this became clear, the election would be over.

Yesterday the NY Times reported (based on remarks by unnamed Obama Administration officials) that in fact the US and Iran had recently reached a secret understanding, but only to hold one-on-one talks on the nuclear issue:

It has the potential to help Mr. Obama make the case that he is nearing a diplomatic breakthrough in the decade-long effort by the world’s major powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, but it could pose a risk if Iran is seen as using the prospect of the direct talks to buy time. (my emphasis)

In what is perhaps a Freudian slip, the Times writers note a “risk” — to Obama’s reelection — if this gambit is perceived  by voters as futile, but not in that it might actually help the Iranian regime realize its plans!

Iran has denied the report. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor also denied it, in a carefully worded statement, saying “It’s not true that the United States and Iran have agreed to one-on-one talks or any meeting after the American elections.” The Times article suggests that there is an agreement in principle, but not a “final agreement.”

It seems to me that simply talking with Iran would not give a significant boost to the Obama campaign, especially if there were any concessions to the regime required just to begin talks.

But it would not surprise me to hear that secret negotiations were presently in progress to try to reach a substantive agreement of some kind before the election, because a deal that could be presented as a victory for the president and his policy would be huge.

This presents a clear moral choice for President Obama and his advisers. Should they go for a big “victory” that will at best give Iran more time and at worst provide it with the cover it needs to go nuclear — and gain 5 points in the polls?

It will certainly tempting for the administration to go for a deal. After all, they may rationalize, they can fix things up after they are reelected.

There is enough uncertainty already, about the amount of enriched uranium Iran already has, about secret installations, about the progress of their weaponization program, etc. The last thing we should do is give them any more time or wiggle room.

We don’t need a “diplomatic breakthrough.” We need to tighten sanctions and follow up with a credible threat of military action. That is the announcement I hope to hear from the president in the next two weeks.

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Will Obama soon announce ‘Peace in our Time’?

Friday, October 19th, 2012

The classic October Surprise, according to Wikipedia, was this one:

On October 26, 1972, twelve days before the election on November 7, the United States’ chief negotiator, the presidential National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, appeared at a press conference held at the White House and announced, “We believe that peace is at hand.”

Nixon was ahead anyway, but this announcement has been thought to add to the landslide over McGovern that followed. The Wikipedia article linked above lists several examples of last-minute ‘revelations’, some true and some not.

Can we expect an October Surprise this year?

We may already have one brewing. A former CIA operative calling himself “Reza Khalili” and claiming to have been an agent inside the Iranian Revolutionary Guards organization, who has previously made skeptically-received claims that Iran had already produced 90% enriched uranium, is now saying that the Obama Administration has struck a deal with the Iranian regime that will shortly be announced:

Iranian and U.S. negotiators have reached an agreement that calls for Iran to halt part of its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of many of the U.S. sanctions against the Islamic regime, according to a highly placed source.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, expects a letter from President Obama in a few days guaranteeing the details of the agreement, arrived at recently during secret negotiations in Doha, Qatar…

The agreement calls for Iran to announce a temporary halt to partial uranium enrichment after which the U.S. will remove many of its sanctions, including those on the Iranian central bank, no later than by the Iranian New Year in March. Iran is in the throes of massive inflation and citizen unrest because of the sanctions.

The article provides more detail of the alleged agreement, including the personal involvement of close Obama confidant Valerie Jarrett.

This is the second article by Khalili on this subject; the first was published on October 4, describing the meeting allegedly held in Doha on October 1. While it is not practical for me to check the details of the report, there is nothing obviously impossible in it.

Let’s assume that his account is in general correct, and that there will shortly be an announcement that sanctions will be (at least partly) relaxed in return for a halt in enrichment. What would this mean?

First, it would be a huge boost for Obama, since it would be characterized as a success for his engagement and “tough diplomacy” policy. Iran, the campaign will say, has been forced to ‘back down’ in the face of sanctions. War has been avoided! By the time it is determined if Iran’s weapons program has been impacted, the election will be over.

Second, it would help the Iranian regime domestically. Existing partial sanctions — or even much tougher ones — cannot stop a non-democratic country like Iran from pursuing a weapons program. But ending them would calm popular unrest as a result of economic problems partly caused by sanctions.

Third, it would preclude US military action against Iran, either alone or in cooperation with Israel.

Fourth, it would make an Israeli attack much more difficult. Israel would be cast in the role of an aggressor, and face almost certain UN sanctions if it hit Iran despite the agreement.

In the event that Iran doesn’t live up to the terms of the agreement, it will be that much further along, sanctions will be gone, Iran will have recouped much of its economic losses, and it may be too late for Israel, or even the US, to end the program by force.

Unless the deal were also to include verifiable dismantling of the enrichment facilities, it would at best represent a temporary slowing of Iran’s weapons program. At worst, enrichment would continue at secret facilities. According to Khalili, the deal is even worse than that, including significant concessions to Iran:

The [US] guarantees would ensure the regime’s right to peaceful enrichment, quickly remove many of the sanctions, accept that Iran’s nuclear program does not have a military dimension and relieve international pressure on the regime while it continues its nuclear program. Also, the U.S. would announce that the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists was the work of a foreign country, though Israel would not be named, to increase legal pressure on Israel.

So, while it is a disaster for Israel and for US interests in the Middle East, such a deal would be a win-win proposition for Obama’s campaign and for Iran. As the election draws closer, the pressure to give Iran a better deal increases exponentially.

An agreement like this would practically guarantee that Iran will become a nuclear power.

Could they possibly be this cynical? We’ll find out within the next two weeks.

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Massacring the truth

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012
The BBC massacres the truth (courtesy Honest Reporting)

The BBC massacres the truth (courtesy Honest Reporting)

The so-called “Jenin Massacre” of 2002 — a massacre that never happened — is emblematic of the way the truth is violated, over and over in this conflict.

I’ve written about this several times. I discussed Palestinian filmmaker Mohammad Bakri, and his “Jenin, Jenin,” an effective propaganda piece full of false accusations and made-up atrocities (including the bombing of a hospital wing that never existed). I wrote about the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by slandered IDF soldiers. I drew attention to biased journalist Philip Reeves, now a respected correspondent for NPR, who wrote some of the earliest reports from the site, suggesting that “hundreds of corpses” were buried in the rubble.

Dr. David Zangen, a doctor who works at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, was an eyewitness. As a reserve medical officer, he was present during the nine days of the  battle. He was interviewed recently by the IDF blog:

During the operation, we made a point to leave the hospital in Jenin unharmed so that injured people would be able to receive medical treatment. Whenever we passed by it snipers on the roof shot at us, but we didn’t fire a single bullet back at them.

Despite that, the people who were there at the time told the media that we killed 16,000 people — even though there were only 54 casualties — and that we shut off the hospital’s electricity. This lie drew a lot of harsh criticism from international organizations and news agencies.

Dr. Zangen wrote an article a few years ago called “Seven Lies about Jenin” in which he gives more details about what was in fact a massacre, not of Arabs, but of the truth.

The most shocking aspect of the affair, for me, was the cynical way in which Bakri and others were comfortable with inverting reality for ideological reasons. Bakri himself admitted that  many “details” were not exactly correct (a massive understatement), but that he served a higher truth.

And here is how Dr. Zangen, who was present at the scene (as Bakri, of course, was not) was treated when he tried to speak out:

A few months after the operation, Mohammed Bakri was about to release the movie ‘Jenin Jenin’, which projected many lies. A member of an Israeli bereaved family called me and asked me to try talk to a cinema manager in Jerusalem who was about to screen the film, and ask him to reconsider.

The manager called me and invited me to watch the film and give her my personal opinion. I came to the cinema and watched the movie, which was filled with lies. She still decided to screen the film, but invited me to stay and speak when the movie was over. I agreed. When I arrived, Mohammed Bakri was on stage and telling the audience that the reason he created the film was to show both sides of the conflict in order to promote peace.

Then I got up on the stage, told him and the audience who I was, and told him that the things he put in his movie never happened. The audience got upset, yelled at me that I was a child murderer and took the microphone from my hands. It was a tough moment for me. That’s why whenever I can, I fight to spread the truth.

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History and sovereignty are slipping away

Friday, October 12th, 2012
A column, possibly from the Second Temple, lies in a pile of rubble on the Temple Mount

A column, possibly from the Second Temple, among rubble on the Temple Mount

This is one of those issues that ought to be shocking, but about which nothing is done. For years — I’ve written about this before — the Muslim waqf that controls the Temple Mount has been systematically destroying archaeological artifacts of Jewish provenance at the site. The photo above, (h/t Israel Matzav) taken by journalist Michael Freund on the Temple Mount,  shows a piece of a column that he believes was part of the Second Temple, in the midst of a pile of rubble.

Apparently out of fear of inflaming Muslim sensibilities — and we know how easy that is — the government of Israel, which theoretically has sovereignty over the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, has never done more than file mild protests over the deliberate destruction of Jewish history.

Meanwhile, Palestinian officials, including Mahmoud Abbas (like Yasser Arafat before him) actually deny that there was a Jewish Temple on the site, calling it an ‘alleged Temple’! So what do they think their waqf buddies are smashing up?

But this is only half of it.

Executing their usual maneuver of accusing Israel of doing what in fact they themselves are doing (or trying to do, like genocide), the Palestinians regularly accuse Israel, on the flimsiest of pretexts, of undermining the Al-Aqsa Mosque or otherwise trying to destroy it. There have been countless Friday riots — last week’s was an example — after Arabs are incited by Imams with stories about the ‘imminent danger’ facing the mosque.

Meanwhile Jews are prohibited from praying on the Mount — Jews have been arrested after being seen moving their lips there. The justification for the criminalization of prayer is, of course, that it will anger the Arabs, and therefore is a matter of public safety. As in so many other cases, the Muslim tactic of extorting unreasonable concessions by threatening violence has been successful.

Numerous lives were lost in 1967 in order to reverse the ethnic cleansing of eastern Jerusalem, to rescue synagogues and cemeteries from desecration, and to make it possible for people of all faiths — even Jews! — to visit their holy sites.

Now, as a result of bad decisions, timidity and inaction, Israel is allowing its sovereignty to slip away and the Arabs to destroy the evidence of Jewish history.

Secular Israelis and Jews may think that this does not concern them. They are wrong. These sites — and their history — belong to the Jewish people, and are part of what unites them as a people, regardless of their degree of observance.

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An evil and repugnant ideology

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012
Malala Yousufzai, 14

Malala Yousufzai, 14

Many of you have been shocked by the story of Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year old Pakistani girl shot in the head by a Taliban terrorist because of a blog she wrote and interviews she gave starting in 2009, criticizing the Taliban and calling for the education of women.

This lovely, self-possessed girl, who speaks and writes on a level far above her age, and who planned to enter politics (video), may or may not survive. If she does not, it will be an enormous loss for Pakistan and for the world.

This is not simply an atrocity of war. This was not done out of hatred, anger or because someone was crazy. Nobody lost control in the heat of battle or was infuriated by a ridiculous YouTube video. No low-level extremist was responsible for this.

No, it was something else entirely. Read about the letter sent by the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leadership to international media today:

The letter, written in English, says a Taliban gunman “successfully targeted” Yousafzai “although she was young and a girl and the TTP does not believe in attacking women.” It says Yousafzai, who gained global recognition at the age of 11 through an online diary she wrote for the BBC about TTP influence in her hometown of Mingora, was shot because “whom so ever leads a campaign against Islam and Shariah is ordered to be killed by Shariah.”

The letter accuses Yousafzai of being “pro-West,” promoting Western culture, and speaking out against Taliban militants — charging that Yousafzai’s “personality became a symbol of an anti-Shariah campaign.” Using the term for Islamic holy warriors to refer to Taliban militants, the letter says that “Yousafzai was playing a vital role in bucking up the emotions” of Pakistan’s military and government “and was inviting Muslims to hate mujahideen.”

The letter goes on to argue that “[i]t is a clear command of Shariah that any female who, by any means, plays a role in the war against mujahideen should be killed.” It then seeks to justify the shooting of the schoolgirl by citing passages from the Koran in which a child or woman was killed…

The Taliban’s justification concludes with a threat, saying: “If anyone thinks that Malala is targeted because of education, that’s absolutely wrong and is propaganda by media. Malala is targeted because of her pioneer role in preaching secularism and so-called enlightened moderation. And whom so ever will commit so in the future too will be targeted again by the TTP.”

The TTP also warned that if she survives, they will try again, and that it is intended as a warning to other children.

The Taliban has thus provided a coldblooded ideological and strategic explanation of their actions, a clear window into their thinking.

And what do we see through this window? For one thing, the emptiness of the idea that all disputes are based on a lack of understanding or communication between the sides. No amount of ‘communication’ can make me accept or understand the principle that promoting secularism is a death penalty crime for an eighth-grader.

We also see that these are not abnormal humans who are missing their moral senses. They are not Ted Bundy or Charles Manson. They are logically acting on the implications of the ideology that they are committed to, the ideology which informs their moral perceptions in the first place.

The ideology is Shari’a, Islamic law. A demand for strict observance of Shari’a characterizes radical Islamists everywhere, from Iran to Pakistan, to the UK.

Do I need to add that this ideology is evil and repugnant?

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Mitt, you were right the first time!

Monday, October 8th, 2012
Mitt Romney speaks about foreign policy at Virginia Military Institute, Oct. 8, 2012

Mitt Romney speaks on foreign policy at Virginia Military Institute, Oct. 8, 2012

I have strongly criticized President Obama for his policy toward Israel. In particular — although there are numerous other issues, like his remarkable disrespect for Israel’s Prime Minister — I was unhappy about his pronounced tilt toward the Palestinian position in peace process negotiations. I won’t go into detail here, but I called Obama the most anti-Israel President we have ever had.

Now for the first time it is beginning to seem that Mitt Romney has a good chance to win the election. I’m not suggesting that we can neglect the many other considerations, in foreign and domestic policy, that are relevant for choosing a president, but I want to look at this particular issue — Israel — and examine what we know about Romney’s attitudes.

In May of this year, at the same private fund-raiser at which he made his unfortunate “47%” remark, Romney said this about the “peace process:”

I’m torn by two perspectives in this regard. One is the one which I’ve had for some time, which is that the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish.

Now why do I say that? Some might say, well, let’s let the Palestinians have the West Bank, and have security, and set up a separate nation for the Palestinians. And then come a couple of thorny questions. And I don’t have a map here to look at the geography, but the border between Israel and the West Bank is obviously right there, right next to Tel Aviv, which is the financial capital, the industrial capital of Israel, the center of Israel. It’s—what the border would be? Maybe seven miles from Tel Aviv to what would be the West Bank…The other side of the West Bank, the other side of what would be this new Palestinian state would either be Syria at one point, or Jordan.

And of course the Iranians would want to do through the West Bank exactly what they did through Lebanon, what they did near Gaza. Which is that the Iranians would want to bring missiles and armament into the West Bank and potentially threaten Israel. So Israel of course would have to say, “That can’t happen. We’ve got to keep the Iranians from bringing weaponry into the West Bank.” Well, that means that—who? The Israelis are going to patrol the border between Jordan, Syria, and this new Palestinian nation? Well, the Palestinians would say, “Uh, no way! We’re an independent country. You can’t, you know, guard our border with other Arab nations.” And now how about the airport? How about flying into this Palestinian nation? Are we gonna allow military aircraft to come in and weaponry to come in? And if not, who’s going to keep it from coming in? Well, the Israelis. Well, the Palestinians are gonna say, “We’re not an independent nation if Israel is able to come in and tell us what can land in our airport.”

These are problems—these are very hard to solve, all right? And I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, “There’s just no way.”

And so what you do is you say, “You move things along the best way you can.” You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem. We live with that in China and Taiwan. All right, we have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it. We don’t go to war to try and resolve it imminently.

On the other hand, I got a call from a former secretary of state. I won’t mention which one it was, but this individual said to me, you know, I think there’s a prospect for a settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis after the Palestinian elections. I said, “Really?” And, you know, his answer was, “Yes, I think there’s some prospect.” And I didn’t delve into it. [my emphasis]

Here Romney made two very important points which, if we go by their public statements, nobody in the Obama Administration understands:

  • The Palestinians do not want a peaceful state alongside Israel, they want to replace it with an Arab state
  • A “two-state solution” with hostile Arabs would present insoluble security problems for Israel

Since the 1970′s American policy in the region has been based on the idea that the result of the 1967 war must be reversed (if you are cynical, you may think that this is because of the influence in the US of the Petro-Saudi lobby). This has been expressed since the Oslo accords or 1993 as support for a “two-state solution.”

While events — the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the Second Intifada — have convinced the great majority of Israelis that a practical two-state solution is a fantasy based on wishful thinking, this has generally not penetrated the US media or political establishment.  So Mitt’s remarks in May came as a breath of fresh air.

Unfortunately, it seems as though Romney has now changed his mind. In a speech that he gave today at Virginia Military Institute, he said,

I will recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel. On this vital issue, the President has failed, and what should be a negotiation process has devolved into a series of heated disputes at the United Nations.

It’s the same old nonsense! (I wonder who the “former Secretary of State” was that may have moved him in this direction — perhaps Saudi Lobbyist James A. Baker?)

Having said this, Romney still seems far more likely to be friendly to Israel than Obama, who Aaron David Miller said “really is different [from other presidents about Israel].” He has a good personal relationship with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He is not associated with anti-Zionists like Edward Said, Rashid Khalidi or Ali Abunimah, or  left-wing Israel-haters like Bill Ayers, or antisemites like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

Mitt, you were right the first time!

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What’s wrong with this picture?

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012
Both dishonest and offensive

Both dishonest and offensive

The picture above was posted on Facebook by a person who thinks war is bad. Apparently, she believes that some of us disagree, and that seeing it might change our minds.

I find it dishonest and offensive, for several reasons.

1. It is dishonest because it suggests that the problem lies in the existence of armies, and not in human aggressiveness and acquisitiveness. Even if we could press a button and all military forces would disappear in a flash, the money spent on them magically appearing in national treasuries, is it likely that hunger would be eradicated? In the so-called “developing” world, where the great majority of the population lives on a subsistence level, aid money is routinely stolen to finance the lifestyle of a few kleptocrats. Why would this be expected to change?

Eliminating armies would not end aggressive behavior. If Israel, for example, didn’t have the IDF to protect it, it would be gone in a matter of days, its borders overwhelmed. The Arabs wouldn’t need armies to accomplish this.

Of course, there is no magic button, so the only way to implement an end to armies would be unilaterally. No sane person could suggest that this would work. How would Vladimir Putin, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or numerous others react to the announcement that the US had decided to end military spending?

2. It is offensive because it suggests that those of us who support the military or serve in it don’t care about human suffering, particularly the suffering of children. It suggests that we believe that war is a good thing. It implies that soldiers are either immoral or dupes.

But I and many others distinguish between just and unjust wars, and believe that it is not a crime to engage in a just war. The fact that it may even be an obligation, in some cases, to fight does not imply that it is a welcome thing.

3. It is offensive because it implies that those opposed to the military are morally superior to those who support it, when it may be that they are simply confused about the difference between the real world and an imagined and unrealizable utopia.

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Some things I believe

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

I am a Zionist.

That means that I support a Jewish state in its historical homeland. I oppose efforts to change it into another Arab state, or to kill and disperse its Jewish inhabitants. It does not mean that I think that Jews are superior to Arabs or anyone else.

It makes sense to me to talk about a Jewish people, and feel myself a part of it.

I believe that if the state of Israel were to disappear, it would unleash a wave of anti-Jewish violence in the diaspora, and the Jewish people as such would shortly cease to exist.

I am not ashamed of the circumstances of Israel’s birth, because I don’t accept the tissue of lies called the “Palestinian narrative.” If the Palestinian Arabs have been victimized, it’s been by their leadership and the Arab nations, not Israel.

I am not ashamed of the actions of the Israeli government, which is forced to fight a continuous battle, diplomatic, cognitive and military, against the large portion of the world that wants Israel to disappear.

I don’t claim that Israel is perfect or that its leaders always make the correct decisions. But I absolutely reject the vicious slanders that appear in Arab, European and — increasingly — American media, that invert reality and attribute to Israel the racist and genocidal motives of its enemies.

I am absolutely convinced that the Palestinian Authority (never mind Hamas!) is not interested in any solution to the conflict that leaves a Jewish state standing.

I don’t hate Arabs or Muslims. But I recognize that there is a growing segment of the Muslim world that believes in expanding the area ruled by Islamic law by means of a combination of threats, subversion, terrorism and war. I see these Muslims as the enemies of Jews, Christians and the secular West. I believe that it is our job to struggle to protect Western civilization against this very real opponent.

I think the “Arab Spring” has for the most part turned into an Islamist revolution.

I think the United Nations is so strongly influenced by enemies of Western civilization that it has long since ceased to be a force for good. At best it is a huge waste of resources, and at worst a tool of the barbarians.

I am very frustrated by American Jews who confuse Jewish ethics with a moral philosophy of naive humanism, who are incapable of understanding that there is such a thing as an enemy, and therefore embrace their enemies. They should all read Kenneth Levin’s book, The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People under Siege, in order to understand themselves (the Israeli Left should read this too, but they are probably to arrogant to be cured).

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