Blessing and curse

March 23rd, 2014

Dry Bones Theology

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. — Gen. 12:3

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. — Barack Obama, April 2009

No, I do not have an opinion on whether or not the well-known biblical promise will be fulfilled. But there is a sense in which betrayals — of allies and ideals — do indeed bring down a curse on a nation.

The US is a liberal democratic country, one in which belief in the rights of freedom of speech and religious expression are almost fetishistic.  You would expect that it would support other nations with similar ideals, and that its policies would favor freedom and tolerance, and oppose oppressive regimes. But lately it has been doing the opposite.

George W. Bush was explicit in his belief that promoting democracy around the world was one of the most important goals of his policy. Perhaps the implementation was naive, but who can disagree with the intention?

Apparently the present administration has decided that Islamism is the wave of the future, despite being fundamentally anti-democratic, racist and misogynistic, and denying just about all the basic freedoms that are so important to us. Regardless, Obama’s America has decided to back the strong horse, support the Muslim Brotherhood, and not push too hard against Iran.

This is cynical and, worse, a betrayal of the principles that our nation is founded on. Now maybe you think the US is really playing with a deck stacked against the poor and ‘people of color’, etc., and those principles are just a lot of propaganda to keep the chumps in line. Even if you are right, though, aren’t these the ideals that we, as a nation, should be trying to realize?

Even if it is true that the US committed genocide against the indigenous inhabitants, even if it is true that the institution of slavery existed here for hundreds of years, does this falsify the ideal of  equal justice and opportunity for all humans that we should be striving to achieve today? Of course not.

Our exceptionalism consists in the belief that we Americans have a commitment to live according to the principles of “liberty and justice for all,” as it says in the Pledge of Allegiance, and a duty to champion these values in the world — because we believe they are right.

We believe they are objectively better than the values of the Muslim Brotherhood or the Iranian regime because they reject the idea that some humans (male Muslims) ought to have more rights than others, because they understand that slavery is wrong, women are not chattel, executions for apostasy and homosexuality are repugnant, and that planning and preparing for religious genocide is not acceptable. Exceptionalism is not simply chauvinism, as the President’s comment suggests; it has a moral basis.

Can you honestly say that the Brotherhood and the Iranian regime are not morally worse than we are, just different? I think you can’t.

Our recent loss of power and prestige — as Israel’s Moshe Ya’alon recently pointed out to the enormous discomfort of the administration — is due directly to the lack of confidence in American ideals in those at the very top of our political pyramid. Vladimir Putin’s opponents may not admire him, but they respect him because of his consistency in pursuit of his goals. Our administration behaves inconsistently because it doesn’t know what its goals are, so naturally we get no respect.

If there is a political sense to the biblical curse, this is it. Yes, the US is betraying Israel, its true ally and the only country in the region that shares its values. It is also betraying these values, and is beginning to pay a high price for it.

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Zionism is moral and necessary

March 18th, 2014

Gideon Levy of Ha’aretz, like Abbas Zaki of Fatah, comes out and says what he thinks, no matter how ugly. Here he asserts that Zionism is Naziism:

This kind of talk could only take place in darkness; in beer cellars, at violent fringe demonstrations or at the headquarters of outlawed organizations. Only the extreme, fascist, neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic and xenophobic right would dare to breathe a word of it. Only skinheads and their masters would dare to speak of national purity and of defining their country based on ethnicity, religion, race, nationality or heredity.

No one would dare to say France for the French, America is all-American, Germany is a German state or Italy is a Catholic one. Anyone who did so wouldn’t be considered credible. These countries are democracies of all their citizens; their character is determined by the components of the entire population. Living in each are minorities, their numbers growing in this era of globalization and migration. No one speaks of a nation-state, of a state of one religion, of one racial group. …

This time it’s not the goyim’s fault, it’s Israel that yearns to live in a ghetto. It’s an old-new obsession, and history laughs its bitter laugh. The new Jews, the Israelis, embrace the methods and the standards of the Nazis, may their name and memory be erased. The Israelis check their bloodlines and then put them in a ghetto. …

It’s “no entry” to Middle Eastern culture, to Arab art and history, to African asylum seekers, to anyone who isn’t a Jew. Every Israeli knows the mantra “a Jewish state,” but it’s doubtful anyone knows what it means. Is it a halakha state run in accordance with Jewish law? Is it a theocracy with no civil marriages, no public transportation on the Sabbath and a mezuzah on nearly every doorpost?

That’s a Jewish state. And would Israel be non-Jewish without these traditions? Would it be non-Jewish with 50,000 asylum seekers and Jewish without them? We haven’t yet decided whether Judaism is a religion or a nationality, or even who is a Jew. The main thing is that we want a Jewish state, the kind Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will recognize forever.

Some of my correspondents think I shouldn’t waste time on such as Levy. But he raises some issues that are highly relevant to today’s diplomacy in a clear way (and he’s just as clearly wrong about them).

He asserts, first, that nationalism must be fascism. This is a poor argument which depends on a conflation between civil rights and national expression. Full civil rights for minorities — voting and representation, all state economic benefits, the same degree of freedom of speech, religion, assembly, etc. as the majority, are generally recognized as something a national government is required to provide. National expression — a flag, a national anthem, even a dedication to the preservation of a particular group and its culture, is not necessary for life and is not automatically due to everyone in a diverse society.

The Nazis, of course, systematically deprived Jews and other ‘undesirable’ groups of their civil rights, including the right to life. Israel, on the other hand, is committed to providing full civil rights to all of its citizens, while it defines itself as the state of the Jewish people. The difference is immense.

Not only is a Zionist state morally acceptable, it is necessary: in the case of some ethnic groups, particularly the Jews, the world’s nations have historically denied their civil rights. One of the driving forces of Zionism has been the unhappy fact that Jewish rights cannot be guaranteed except in the framework of a Jewish state, one whose reason for being is in part to ensure that these rights will always be preserved. Norwegians are welcome to create non-nationalist states with open borders if they wish, but this would be a poor choice for Jews.

The existence of a Jewish homeland also protects Jewish rights in other nations, by diplomatic action, rescue, or conceivably by military force. Could an ‘Israel’ — or whatever it would be called — “of all its citizens” perform this function? How long could such a state even keep its Jewish majority?

Levy notes that it is not easy to define ‘Jew’, nor to determine the proper amount of influence to give to religious institutions and values. All this is true, but so what? Just because it’s hard to provide a simple definition of something does not imply that the concept isn’t meaningful. And even a decidedly pluralistic state like the US has trouble defining who are members of minority groups (something Americans obsess about) and finding an appropriate place for religion.

“No one would dare say France for the French…” says Levy. He’s wrong. Marine Le Pen heads the third-largest party in France, and she talks exactly that way. In the halls of the Left she’s called a fascist, of course, but almost 18% of French voters preferred her in 2012, compared to Nicolas Sarkozy (27%) and François Hollande (29%). 6.4 million French citizens are not Nazis!

Le Pen’s success is partly a reaction to the practical problems that result from almost uncontrolled immigration. Levy also seems to think that tiny Israel can be a solution for an unlimited number of refugees from dysfunctional African states, but even Europe can’t do that.

Finally, Mahmoud Abbas also wants a nation-state, for the ‘Palestinian people’. It’s pretty clear that, like Jordan and Saudi Arabia, there would be no Jews in ‘Palestine’. The proposed constitution for Palestine states that “Islam is the official religion of Palestine.” I have never heard Levy or anyone else on the Left object to this, or compare the Palestinians to Nazis. Even the usual concerns for human rights (don’t forget women, gays, etc.) are elided where the Palestinians are concerned.

The Left’s vision of a borderless world in which every nation is a “democratic state of all its citizens” is being tried now, in Europe, and it is failing badly, economically, socially, and — most important — demographically, with native fertility rates far below what’s needed for the society to survive. Israel’s Jewish fertility rate is a healthy 2.8, well above the replacement rate of 2.1. Perhaps Israel’s social and economic vitality has something to do with the national pride and religion that still exist there, despite what is written in Ha’aretz?

Without Jewish nationalism, that is, Zionism, there would be no Israel, and no reason for one — which is why psychopathic Jew-hater Gideon Levy advocates against it.

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Plenty of room at the inn

March 14th, 2014

How many times have you heard that early Zionists came to a land already populated, and found the inhabitants ‘invisible’ in their European arrogance? “A land without a people for a people without a land,” they supposedly said, and then proceeded to kick out the people that they hadn’t noticed, in order to get their land.

This is the basis of the Palestinian narrative, and we hear it from their apologists as well, who love to talk about the ‘indigenous’ Palestinians and the ‘European colonialist’ Jewish ‘settlers’ that ‘dispossessed’ them.

The hidden assumption here is that there was only enough land for one people. The conflict had to be a zero-sum affair: if the Jews came in, the Arabs would have to get out.

Nobody denies that there were more Arabs than Jews living in the land when the Zionists began their immigration. But what if there was plenty of land for both peoples? What if the conflict grew out of something other than a struggle over land?

Israeli-born sociologist Amitai Etzioni was disturbed by Ari Shavit’s apparent acceptance of the zero-sum thesis in his book, My Promised Land:

I knew that a fundamental aspect of Shavit’s thesis was deeply flawed, but I was reluctant to give voice to my criticisms, because they were based on personal observations. I then realized that there is strong statistical data to support my conclusions. But first, a brief account of what I saw and experienced in the days before Israel existed as a state.

I was born as a Jewish child in Germany in 1929. In 1935, as Nazi influence grew, my family escaped, joining four other families of the same background to form a new settlement in Palestine in 1936. They named it Kfar Shmaryahu (it’s next to Herzliya). The five families occupied 600 “dunams,” [a dunam is about 1/4 acre] cleared the rocks, drilled a water well, paved a road before erecting a bunch of modest homes and farming the land. All this was done on previously unoccupied land — land that was lying fallow next to an Arab village called Sidney Alley. …

The relationship between my parents’ village and Sidney Alley varied over the years, ranging from comfortable to tense. However, as far as I recall, no shots were fired, and most assuredly, no one was driven off land or out of a home. Those who lived unmolested in Sidney Alley until 1948 left at that point. We were told that they took with them keys to our homes that they somehow acquired, and had agreed among themselves who will get which of our homes after the seven Arab militaries that attacked the weak and newborn Israel defeated it. I never saw any evidence that supports this tale, but I know firsthand that no Israeli forces drove out the people of Sidney Alley.

Because it was personal and local I was reluctant to draw any conclusions from this experience, until I realized that there was clear evidence to show that there was plenty of room in Palestine for Jews and Arabs. Here is what the data show: At the end of 1946, just before the United Nations’ declaration that led to the foundation of Israel, there were 1,267,037 Arabs and 543,000 Jews in Palestine. By the end of 2012 there were 1,647,200 Arabs in Israel (and nearly 6 million Jews). That is, the numbers of Arabs increased by nearly 400,000. Since 1946 many more Jews and Arabs found a home in this blessed land.

Shavit makes it sounds [sic] like Palestine was a small home that was taken, that there was no room at the inn. Actually it was more like a motel that had plenty of empty rooms, although surely some were taken. True, some Arabs were driven out. And way too many Arabs and Jews died at each other’s hands. But the tragic reasons for these developments is not, the data unmistakably show, that there wasn’t enough room for both peoples.

I should add that in 1880 there were far, far fewer Arabs between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, maybe 500,000 at most, and many of those came to those vilayets (provinces) of the Ottoman Empire that would be called ‘Palestine’ in the 1830s with Muhammad Ali’s invasion from Egypt. Mark Twain’s 1869 Innocents Abroad describes the land as mostly barren and underpopulated, its Arab and Jewish residents living in terrible poverty and abysmal health conditions.

Zionist development of the land created economic opportunities for Arabs, and this — combined with political strife and droughts in Syria — brought more of them. Finally, the British imported Arab workers for various projects, including building railroads, etc.

And the Zionists didn’t dispossess the Arabs. Ami Isseroff tells us that

Zionist immigrants did not displace Palestinian Arabs in mandatory Palestine. Quite the opposite, the Arab population of Palestine grew at a tremendous rate between 1922 and 1948. In 1922, at the start of the British Mandate there were some 589,000 Muslim Arabs and  71,000 Christian Arabs in Palestine, a number that is probably an overestimate. By 1945, there were well over 1.2 million Arabs in Palestine and perhaps over 1.3 million by 1948. The Arab population of Palestine had about doubled during the years of the mandate. If the Zionists were plotting and planning to evict the Arabs of Palestine, the supposed Zionist policy would have to be judged a miserable failure.

At the same time, the Jewish population grew to over 600,000. The land that had held 753,000 people in 1922,  held about 1.9 million in 1948. The “full box” of Palestine turned out to have very elastic walls. As it has done elsewhere in the world, immigration to Palestine stimulated the economy and resulted in a higher standard of living for everyone. The immigration of Jews and the investment of Palestine were due directly to Zionism and its impact. …

So not only was there still room for both Jews and Arabs in 1946, but those Arabs that were there were not significantly more indigenous than the Jews. The difficulty then, as now, was that the Arab leadership would not countenance Jewish sovereignty for religious and cultural/ethnic reasons.

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US weakens stance on recognition of Jewish state

March 9th, 2014
State Department spokesman Jen Psaki: "No one is talking about an obligation"

State Department spokesman Jen Psaki: “No one is talking about an obligation”

Watch carefully as the US tilts more and more in the PLO direction:

Barack Obama, March 3, 2013:

Meanwhile, Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state and that Israelis have the right to insist upon their security.

American Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, February 21, 2014:

It’s too early to know what compromises and concessions both sides will make … But we do believe … that Israel deserves recognition as a Jewish state. That has always been US policy — that Israel is a Jewish state and should remain a Jewish state. That will be one of the elements of the framework we’re working on.

But here is State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki on March 7, 2014:

MS. PSAKI: … And if you look at the issue of a Jewish state and whether Israel will be called a Jewish state, that’s been our position, as you know, for a long time, but that doesn’t reflect what the parties will agree to, which I know you know, and of course there are many issues like that that are being discussed as part of the framework. …

QUESTION: Okay. My question to you is: Why the Palestinians are obligated to recognize Israel as a Jewish state when all the other states that have relations with Israel and have recognized Israel since day one did not do the same?

MS. PSAKI: No one is talking about an obligation. We’re talking about a discussion and what’s being compromised as part of a discussion on a framework for negotiations.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. So you don’t see this as a precondition, then?

MS. PSAKI: I think I’m done with your line of questioning.

Yeah, you can trust these guys, Mr. Netanyahu!

Let me add a word about why recognition by the Palestinians of Israel as the state of the Jewish people is important. We often hear the argument — even Abbas himself has made it — that Israel can define itself as whatever it wants and does not need the Palestinians to agree. Or, as the unnamed reporter above put it, why should the Palestinians be required to do more than other countries that have recognized the State of Israel?

The answer to the question “why does Israel think recognition as a Jewish state is necessary” lies in why Mahmoud Abbas refuses to grant it. And that is because after an agreement that gives Palestinians a state, it is his intention to press on for the remainder of their ‘rights’ — in particular, the admission of millions of descendents of Arab refugees into Israel.

The PLO position, expressed daily in its official media, is that Israel is an illegitimate colonial entity squatting on land that ‘belongs’ to a historic ‘Palestinian’ civilization. Abbas wrote in the NY Times in 2011 that if Palestine were admitted to the UN, he intended to continue to pursue its objectives in whatever forums were available:

Palestine’s admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.

It would be no different after an agreement with Israel, unless that agreement specifically included the termination of such claims, particularly the so-called ‘right of return’ for the descendents of refugees. That ‘right’ is premised on the claim of Arab ‘ownership’ of the land of Israel — which is precisely what recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people (even an Israel truncated to pre-1967 size) would relinquish.

The reason that negotiations between Israel and the PLO-based leadership of the Palestinian Arabs have failed since Oslo is that the aims of the sides are entirely different. Israel would like to trade land for an agreement to end the conflict, while the Arabs would like to obtain land for a base from which to continue the conflict. These are mutually exclusive.

Keep in mind also that except for careful statements made in English such as Abbas’ op-ed, we have no reason to believe that the conflict would not continue in its violent aspect as well as its diplomatic one after an agreement was signed — and a great deal of evidence that it would.

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Iranian regime puts its people at risk

March 5th, 2014
The Klos-C, Iranian container ship intercepted by Israeli Navy carrying weapons bound for Gaza

The Klos-C, Iranian container ship intercepted by Israeli Navy carrying weapons bound for Gaza

Early this morning it was reported that Israel’s Navy intercepted a vessel, the Klos-C, on its way to Port Sudan with a cargo intended for terrorist organizations in Gaza — a cargo including M-302 missiles, some versions of which which have a range of up to 150 miles. This would allow Hamas (or whoever had control of them) to target virtually all of Israel. IDF spokesperson Peter Lerner, in a conference call this morning, said that “dozens” of M-302’s had already been found on the ship (along with other weapons), even before the IDF finished searching the ship.

According to the IDF, the missiles were manufactured in Syria, shipped by air from Damascus to Tehran, and then over land to Bandar Abbas where they were loaded on the ship. The ship stopped at an Iraqi port on the way to Sudan, and then was intercepted in international waters, almost 1000 miles from Israel. Now it is proceeding to Eilat, where the weapons will be removed.

I’m sure that the details of the operation — which involved the Navy and Air Force — the intelligence collection leading up to it (Lerner said it had been going on for “months”), the possible assistance of Egypt, etc. would be fascinating. But this is what I want to say about it:

The consequences of these missiles having reached their intended destination would have been catastrophic. Supplying this kind of weapon to terrorists with genocidal aims is a violation of international law of course, but morally speaking it is a seriously evil act. The Iranian regime is guilty of attempted mass murder, and in a just world its leaders would be tried, convicted and imprisoned.

We don’t live in that kind of world, so the Iranian president will continue to be described as ‘moderate’ and treated with respect at the UN. But where there isn’t official justice, sometimes it can be obtained by direct action. The Iranian revolutionary regime has been killing Jews all over the world since the 1980s — it destroyed the Asociación Mutual Israelita building in Argentina in 1994, armed Hizballah in Lebanon before and after the 2006 war, bombed a tour bus full of Israelis in Bulgaria in 2009, and now is developing nuclear weapons while its ‘Supreme Leader’ calls Israel a “rabid dog.” Would it be surprising if at some point Israel decided that the regime should pay for its past actions and be deterred from future ones?

Even the US State Department has called Iran the “most active state sponsor of terrorism” in the world. Ordinary Iranians, who by all accounts are mostly not fanatics, should understand the position that the regime has placed them in. If it succeeds in fielding a nuclear weapon or in some other way precipitating  a confrontation with Israel, it may be too late for a ‘surgical’ response, and the Iranian nation as a whole would suffer the consequences.

Update [2004 PST]: I had previously said the Klos-C was Iranian-owned. This is not the case. It is registered in the Marshall Islands, where documentation requirements are minimal.

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