Archive for February, 2013

46 minutes on Israel and international law

Monday, February 18th, 2013

Do you suffer from International Law Insecurity? Do you stutter incoherently when someone tells you that “Israeli settlements in the ‘West Bank’ are illegal under international law?” What about when they say “the International Court of Justice has judged Israel’s security barrier to be illegal?” Or when they call the area east of the Green Line “occupied Palestinian territory?”

Guess what? It’s all a bunch of crap, to use a technical expression.

Here, in one 46-minute lecture, is a clear explanation of what international law is and is not, and how it applies to some of the controversies around the Jewish state.

Eugene Kontorovich is Professor of Law at Northwestern University and an expert in international law.

Note: if you can’t see the embedded video, you can go directly to the source. Click here: The Legal Case for Israel.

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Smelling Chuck Hagel

Sunday, February 17th, 2013
AIPAC Gorilla

Image courtesy

My grandparents emigrated from Russia to the US before the revolution. They were the type that divided things, and people, into Good For The Jews or Bad For The Jews. They were wary people, who understood that a Jew always had to be careful, even in America. They could smell antisemitism, and they believed that a Jew could not count on the authorities, or on his non-Jewish neighbors if the worse happened. I was close to them, closer than to my Americanized parents, and I became this kind of Jew as well.

Most younger American Jews do not display this heightened awareness, this almost paranoid (but not unreasonable) consciousness of their Jewish marginality, as Jeremy Ben Ami of J Street explained to a NY Times reporter several years ago:

The average age of the dozen or so staff members is about 30. [J Street director Jeremy] Ben-Ami speaks for, and to, this post-Holocaust generation. “They’re all intermarried,” he says. “They’re all doing Buddhist seders.” They are, he adds, baffled by the notion of “Israel as the place you can always count on when they come to get you.”

That notion is not baffling to me and certainly wouldn’t have been to my grandparents.

My alarm bells went off when the President chose Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. I am not especially worried by officials of our government, even presidents, who are not particularly friendly to Israel. As Hagel himself said, they are American senators, or congressmen, or cabinet members, not Israelis. The trouble is that this guy — like another Obama nominee for an important post, Chas Freemanis way over on the hostile side.

Hagel’s problem with Israel is so consistent over time and over issues, that it’s hard to believe it is wholly rational. The most recent example is his 2007 statement (which he says he “can’t recall making”) that “the State Department was becoming an adjunct of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.”

The assertion that the State Department — that bureau which fought tooth and nail to prevent Harry Truman from recognizing the Jewish state, which does not believe that any part of Jerusalem belongs to Israel, and which maintains a US Embassy to ‘Palestine’ in the capital of Israel (which it doesn’t recognize) — is dominated by Israel, is beyond ludicrous. So why did he make it?

This statement is ‘ZOG’ (Zionist Occupation Government) stuff, an expression of one of the central anti-Jewish myths, that of a shadowy Jewish conspiracy pulling the strings that control our government. It fits with Hagel’s use of the phrase ‘Jewish lobby’, and his suggestion that the lobby “intimidates” US officials.

Hagel’s supporters are pushing this theme to the max. Stephen Walt wrote,

…if the lobby takes Hagel down, it will provide even more evidence of its power, and the extent to which supine support for Israel has become a litmus test for high office in America. [my emphasis]

Ah, the powerful lobby! Ask M J Rosenberg:

The onslaught is unprecedented. Never before has virtually the entire organized Jewish community combined to stop a presidential cabinet appointment because it deems the potential nominee insufficiently devoted to Israel. …

The onslaught against Hagel is unique however because the reason for it is not merely that he opposes the rush to war with Iran and favors negotiating an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The reason is because he dared to refer to the existence of the Israel lobby. He said this in 2008 in an interview with former State Department official, Aaron Miller.

“The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,” but as he put it, “I’m a United States senator. I’m not an Israeli senator.”

That quote will likely doom Hagel’s candidacy because, if there is one institution that is considered untouchable, it is the Israel lobby and its power. [my emphasis]

Their theme is that “The Lobby” will “punish” Hagel and Obama for their disrespect. The same point is made by Patrick Slattery on (yes)

AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which represent the official command center of organized American Jewry, have come out beating their chests over his public acknowledgement of the existence of the 800-pound gorilla of a “Jewish lobby.” On the other hand, “liberal” Zionists like Thomas Freidman and Peter Beirnart are defending Hagel, perhaps because nothing can draw public attention to the power of an 800-pound gorilla more than the gorilla ripping to pieces a respected public figure in broad daylight. [my emphasis]

All this diverts attention from other important questions about Hagel, like “is he competent to run the massive enterprise that is the Defense Department?” and, given his opposition to both economic sanctions and the use of force, “what does putting Hagel is in the chain of command of the US armed forces tell Iran about our resolve to stop them from getting nuclear weapons?” That may be the idea.

But that’s the business of our Senate, most of which unfortunately follows the President like a lapdog. As for me, I’m just a Zhid from a village in the Ukraine who knows when something, or someone, stinks.

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BREAKING: Is Hagel Jewish?

Friday, February 15th, 2013

So two Jewish academics, one American and one Israeli, co-author a report with a Palestinian professor, paid for by the US State Department, claiming that Palestinian textbooks don’t really incite hatred against Jews and Israelis, that Israeli books are biased too, and it’s just a question of different ‘narratives’. It turns out (are you surprised?) that it is a bunch of nonsense.

Dangerous nonsense, though, because the issue of ‘incitement’ is critical — that is, if the Palestinians teach their children that

Zionism is “a colonialist political movement founded by the Jews of Europe in the second half of the 19th century… [intent on] displacing the Palestinian people in Palestine from their land.”

and far worse, then it calls into question their desire to live peacefully alongside a Jewish state, as well as the advisability of Israeli concessions in order to reach an agreement with them.

In all, this is a small skirmish in one of many battles in the larger information war which is a major theater in the conflict between Israel and its neighbors. Despite being nonsense, it is an effective gambit due to the academic credentials of the authors and the ‘scientific’ pretensions of the report, even though the whole enterprise is based on faulty premises (read this for the ugly details). The State Department certainly got full value for its money.

Now I want to switch gears, because it isn’t the question of textbooks and incitement that I really want to talk about (check Palestinian Media Watch for more examples than you wanted to see).

Note that the two non-Arab co-authors happen to be Jewish.

I used to write ‘man-bites-dog’ stories about Jewish anti-Zionism. I would write, “with Jews like these, who needs antisemites?” I spent a lot of time trying to understand their apparently inconsistent behavior, given the importance of the Jewish state to the cultural and physical survival of the Jewish people. I wrote literally tens of articles on the subject of J Street, the phony pro-Israel organization, and about the recently-elected head of the Reform Movement, who was an activist in J Street and the New Israel Fund.

I have stopped being surprised at this. It no longer appears remarkable to me when I notice that the leaders of anti-Zionist groups are Jews, sometimes rabbis. I am beginning to sympathize with whoever it was who said that whenever he or she sees a Jewish name at the bottom of a letter to the editor, there’s no need to read it. I can only shrug when I note the overwhelming Jewish support for the most anti-Israel US administration since 1948. I don’t dislike Max Blumenthal as much as I disliked Yasser Arafat any more.

There are reasons for all of these things, in psychology and politics. I am no longer interested in them. I have always thought that my mission was, above all, to educate my Jewish friends about Zionism and why it is important for Jews to be Zionists. I am no longer sure that this is possible.

No, now there is only one overriding issue for me:

How do we get Chuck Hagel a Bar Mitzvah?

Note: No, I don’t really think Chuck Hagel is Jewish. There is no evidence for that, unless you count his over-the-top anti-Zionism.

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How the heck we got here

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013
US embassy, Saigon 1975

US embassy, Saigon 1975

By Robert K. Vincent

Once upon a time (say, 50 years ago), we stood for something as a civilization. We had just fought some incredibly bloody wars which we could have easily avoided at that time by appeasing or ignoring Japan, Germany, and soon after, North Korea. In the course of these conflicts, we affirmed what we stood for as a society. Little things like democracy, religious tolerance, free speech, human rights, etc.

Then, we got involved in a war – largely, if imperfectly, in support of these principles – in a place called Vietnam. This war, like most wars, was not really about “bad guys versus good guys”, but “bad guys versus worse guys”. This kind of ambiguity is difficult for our rather idealistic polity to deal with. At the same time, we were in the midst of a kind of national soul-searching related to a very necessary civil rights movement, which revealed to ourselves and the world that we were not quite as perfect as we liked to believe ourselves to be.

Meanwhile, our allies in SE Asia were terribly corrupt. So much so, that in hindsight, perhaps it would have been best if we had let them fall early on before we got in too deep. But we did not; we chose to stand by them anyway for a variety of reasons, some more noble than others.

Our adversary was incredibly cunning, led by a singular military genius, General Vo Nguyen Giap. Despite being outgunned by the U.S. in every way that such things were normally measured, he discovered and exploited a new dimension of warfare related to the manipulation of public opinion through mass communications. While we were playing “chess” on a two-dimensional board that represented a clash of arms, our enemy was playing in three dimensions, in which there was also a “clash of perceptions” at play.

In this way, an outright invasion led by a ruthless army of guerrillas, fighting with no moral floor, using child warriors, combatants dressed as civilians, carrying out all manner of terrorism (sound familiar?!), became a “beleaguered liberation movement” pitted against a big bad bully imperialist (that would be us). Idealistic young people, attracted to the civil rights movement (for example), and thus filled with self-doubt about the morality of the society in which they lived, were easily co-opted and recruited into supporting this narrative.

And so, our leaders of that time — standing for the ‘traditional American values’ — were cast as hypocritical liars (and, being mortal, sometimes they actually did lie).  At the same time, murderous totalitarians bent on self-aggrandizement — to include the likes of Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh, and Mao Zedong — became “hip” folk heroes. Atrocities like the Viet Cong massacre of civilians in Hue were largely ignored, while the inadvertent civilian casualties caused by American efforts to root out the terrorist guerrillas who hid behind them — (sound familiar?!) — were splashed across all of our news media.

In what proved to be a crowning propaganda achievement of our enemies in this war, our decisive defeat of a desperate action on their part — the “Tet Offensive” — morphed into a ‘victory’ for them in terms of public perceptions here at home: the only place it counts. This was incredible.

In the end, even though materially we could have easily won, we walked away, we abandoned our ally, and we lost. We, who simultaneously defeated Nazi Germany and Japan a scant 30 years before (not even).

Since, per the American narrative, “good guys” are never supposed to “lose”, the only way we could make sense of this to ourselves was to tell ourselves that we were the bad guys. Since only the “good guys” in any war “deserve” to win, lo and behold, the North Vietnamese communists became, in the eyes of many Americans, the “good guys”!  So, as a political culture, a huge segment of our population, starting with the generation who experienced that war and the resultant political fallout, passed this narrative down ever since, and it became particularly institutionalized in academia and the media: the organs of thought control. In effect, we have internalized that 2+2=5. Anyone who suggested otherwise – such as Vietnam veterans who knew differently — were cast in the popular imagination as embittered psychopaths or rednecks, likened to the disgruntled German WW1 veterans who claimed that their government ‘stabbed them in the back’. White is now black. We had lost our moorings. Once this occurs, anything can be rationalized.

Self-flagellation, contempt for anything resembling “patriotism” as this term was understood pre-Vietnam, a highly rationalized form of guilt-fed cowardice then went on to pass for “enlightened” thought… this has even become a perverse kind of “patriotism” in its own right! Such a mindset is now taken for granted as the “correct” way of looking at our country on college campuses today, and among many in the media and Hollywood as well.

After 40 years of this nonsense, we don’t know what we stand for anymore.

Fast forward to the present:

This dynamic explains, for example, how someone like Barack Obama could have considered himself as “patriotic” as John McCain. Objectively, this is simply absurd, but what I’ve described above is the paradigm by which he could convince himself of this lie, and how others could readily be persuaded to buy this garbage.  This is also how someone like Obama’s former communications director, Anita Dunn, could find it perfectly acceptable to sing the praises of Mao before a high school graduating class.  This is how someone like Obama’s former “green jobs czar”, Van Jones, could rationalize signing petitions that claimed Bush was behind 9-11, and so on.

In the current war against Islamic extremism, we have every advantage over our Islamist adversaries… except that, as I just noted earlier, we don’t seem to believe in anything anymore, except perhaps being comfortable. On the other hand, the Islamists know very well what they believe in, and horrendous though it may be (after all, the Nazis and Imperial Japanese were quite sincere in their “beliefs” as well), such naked commitment and confidence is very impressive to someone who believes in nothing (and, to put the final piece in the puzzle, if the Barack Obamas and Anita Dunns can’t bring themselves to believe in what America is supposed to stand for, but they feel driven to believe in something, then they will look elsewhere for their heroes, to Mao, to Che, to Castro, ad nauseam).

Building on this, our enemy has adopted and fine-tuned General Giap’s tactics, and this is no coincidence. In fact, Yasser Arafat traveled to Hanoi during the late 1960s in order to glean tactics for defeating a materially superior foe. General Giap’s book on such tactics is widely translated and circulated around the Arab world.  What is worse, our enemy today has financial resources with which to pursue these tactics that Ho Chi Minh could have only dreamed of.

Again, in the aggregate, as Americans, we don’t know what we are about, except for being comfortable. We are loathe to making any genuine sacrifices for anything. In the wake of Pearl Harbor, we embarked on the most expensive and second bloodiest war in our history.  In the course of a single battle in that war — Iwo Jima — we lost more American dead in the space of about a month than we did in the whole of our war in Iraq.  We endured near-universal conscription, we rationed food and other consumables, we grew “victory gardens”.  In the wake of 9-11, we were urged to “go shopping”.

In the absence of integrity, values, and most of all, genuine patriotism as these concepts were once broadly understood here, especially by many who were expected to set an example — from political leaders to celebrities — money dominates; everyone is for sale. Through petrodollars, the Arabs — among others, but they are most relevant with respect to the war we are now fighting — are making sure that we won’t do what needs to be done to win, if they have anything to say about it.  In this example, if the object of the game is to have the most toys, why not have a Swiss bank account that the Arabs can dump money into, if all one has to do for this largesse is beat up on Israel, or make excuses for Islamists? Sure beats working!

I highlight the Saudis here for a reason. On nearly every major relevant issue, Obama is doing precisely what they would have him do, up to the very edge of political possibility — but that is another subject.  What is most important here is how people who would presume to lead our country could become so shallow, so hollow, and so cowardly, as to leave themselves open to such malevolent influences.

That is ‘how the heck we got here’.

How do we get out? Keep trying to speak the truth about this everywhere we can, to anyone who will listen. But one should be warned:

The most dangerous, politically incorrect thing you can ever say in the America of today is to suggest that we really were on the right side of history in Vietnam, and that despite this, we simply gave up, walked away, and let those who were on the wrong side win anyway.  This is a political/cultural stink bomb of nuclear proportions.

Today, with the re-election of Barack Obama, our descent continues.  This is clearly evident in his cabinet picks for both Secretary of State in John Kerry, and Secretary of Defense in Chuck Hagel.  While both served honorably in Vietnam, these individuals are thoroughly steeped in the defeatism and amoral, opportunistic cynicism that has tainted American foreign policy since that time.

In the face of a resurgent Islamist movement, as recently evidenced by the attacks on our embassies this past fall, as well as an increasingly bold and assertive China, it is more important than ever that we recognize, confront, and defeat those who weaken us from within, before it is too late.

January, 2013

Robert Vincent, a U.S. Army veteran, obtained his BA in Russian and East European Studies from the University of Michigan, his MA in International Relations from the University of Chicago, and his MBA from the University of Findlay.  He lives and works in Northwest Ohio.

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To solve Syrian problem, cut the head off the snake

Monday, February 11th, 2013

The civil war in Syria is no longer just about Bashar al-Assad, and even less about the desire of some liberal Syrians to have a more democratic government, personal freedom and economic development. It has become the front line in the Iranian war against the West, whose intermediate objective is to eliminate Israel, seen as a US base.

From a report in the Washington Post:

Iran and Hezbollah, its Lebanese proxy, are building a network of militias inside Syria to preserve and protect their interests in the event that President Bashar al-Assad’s government falls or is forced to retreat from Damascus, according to U.S. and Middle Eastern officials.

The militias are fighting alongside Syrian government forces to keep Assad in power. But officials think Iran’s long-term goal is to have reliable operatives in Syria in case the country fractures into ethnic and sectarian enclaves.

A senior Obama administration official cited Iranian claims that Tehran was backing as many as 50,000 militiamen in Syria. “It’s a big operation,” the official said. “The immediate intention seems to be to support the Syrian regime. But it’s important for Iran to have a force in Syria that is reliable and can be counted on.”

Iran’s strategy, a senior Arab official agreed, has two tracks. “One is to support Assad to the hilt, the other is to set the stage for major mischief if he collapses.”

I think we can safely say that direct Iranian control of Syria via Hizballah is worse for Israel than the indirect control now being exerted via Bashar al-Assad. Despite the degree to which opposition to the existence of a Jewish state is fundamental to the Assad regime, it has been possible to convince the Syrian ruler that direct confrontation would lead to the total destruction of his military capability and the end of his reign. It is much harder to apply deterrence in the same way to a non-state proxy like Hizballah.

Even if Syria fragments along ethnic lines, which seems likely in the event of Assad’s collapse, a Hizballah-controlled enclave will serve Iran’s interests as a conduit to Hizballah in Lebanon:

In a divided Syria, Iran’s natural allies would include Shiites and Alawites concentrated in provinces near Syria’s border with Lebanon and in the key port city of Latakia. Under the most likely scenarios, analysts say, remnants of Assad’s government — with or without Assad — would seek to establish a coastal enclave closely tied to Tehran, dependent on the Iranians for survival while helping Iran to retain its link to Hezbollah and thereby its leverage against Israel.

Experts said that Iran is less interested in preserving Assad in power than in maintaining levers of power, including transport hubs inside Syria. As long as Tehran could maintain control of an airport or seaport, it could also maintain a Hezbollah-controlled supply route into Lebanon and continue to manipulate Lebanese politics.

There are other elements among the Syrian rebels who would also be dangerous, some associated with al-Qaeda, who could turn parts of what is today Syria into terrorist no-man’s lands.

Israel could theoretically support Assad to try to keep the status quo. But this means keeping Syria as Iran’s base in the eastern Mediterranean. Iranian arms would continue to be supplied to Hizballah in Lebanon, and certainly efforts to transfer more advanced weapons or WMD would continue. There is also the ‘small’ problem that this would mean supporting a mass murderer, someone who is coming to define the concept of a vicious despot. He is a son of a bitch, and he would not even be “our son of a bitch.”

Assad, after all, is only a a bit player in this drama. The real villain is the Iranian regime, which has colonized Syria and is colonizing Lebanon in its attempt to squeeze out US influence in the Middle East (and as a by-product destroy Israel and become the hero of the Muslim world).

Furthermore, Hizballah does not only threaten Israel. Its terrorist web spans the world, and it is becoming particularly powerful in Latin America. It is the tool Iran will use to confront the US, once it has gotten those pesky Jews in the Middle East out of the way.

Hizballah is so powerful that even the Europeans are afraid of it. Despite proof that Hizballah is behind the deadly terrorist attack in Burgas, Bulgaria, the EU is avoiding designating Hizballah a terrorist group.

The best answer is to do what Saudi king Abdullah recommended, to “cut off the head of the snake” by removing the Iranian regime. This will have to be done before Iran gets nuclear weapons, and it will have to be done by the US. Israel, for its part, will have its hands full defending itself against Hizballah’s Lebanese branch.

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