Saturday, April 29, 2006

Camel Sightings

I took this picture about 45 minutes (walking distance) from our apartment in Beer Sheva. There is a pretty big herd of camels in the background, but the zoom wasn't strong enough. It's not really a big deal for me anymore, but I know I'll kick myself one day for not taking more pictures here. The valley where the camels were grazing near Beer Sheva's northern exit, west of the gas station on the west side of the highway to Tel Aviv. We walked into the fields for about 15-20 minutes until we got to a point that looked out over a little wadi.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Maccabi TA defeats Tau, 85-70, in Euroleague Semifinal

Maccabi Tel Aviv put on a clinic in the Euroleague semifinal today.
"In an impressive display of shooting in front of close to 10,000 fans who made their way from Israel, Maccabi Tel Aviv drubbed Spanish club Tau Vitoria in its semifinal match, 85-70. "
The team is going for its third consecutive Euroleague championship title on Sunday against CSKA Moscow.

Psychotic Sermons

Here's a Friday sermon recently broadcasted on Palestinian Authority TV. It's one of the latest installments from MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute), a group that among other things translates feeds from Arabic-language television into English. I suppose we've gotten used to things like this, but somehow they never fail to shock me...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Alan Dershowitz on Mearsheimer and Walt

Dershowitz has published a 43 page response to Mearsheimer and Walt's study, in which the Harvard law professor emphasizes the sub-scholarly character of a publication riddled with factual errors:

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Martin Kramer on Walt and Mearsheimer

I finally remembered to check out what Martin Kramer had to say about Walt and Mearsheimer's piece. To look up his strong response, go to the Kramer website. He reprinted an old response that he wrote after being challenged to rebutt Walt's claim that Israel was a liability to the US.

Kramer's piece is the type of good, measured response that I like to see to this kind of stuff. It appeals both to popular sentiment and to the intellect, so that it makes a good counter-punch to the "Lobby Paper".

Kramer's approach is to put the close relations between America and the US, ties that are so often maligned by American Arabists and so-called progressives, into historical context. The fact is that many people overlook the Cold War roots of the American-Israeli alliance. By ignoring the fact that Egypt was in the Soviet Camp until the mid-1970s, people can get away with depicting the Israeli-American relationship as the result of some frightening domestic hocus-pocus courtesy of the "Jewish Lobby". The "revolutionary" Arab regimes that arose in the 1950s chose to align themselves with the Soviet Union, because it was viewed as a more convenient and stronger ally and as a way to keep Washington at bay. As Kramer shows, Arab hostility to the US had nothing to do with American support for Israel. In fact, as Kramer notes, and here he might be overstating a little, the State Department was busy keeping its distance from Israel. Most of Israel's weapons deals in this period were with the French (mirage jets and armoured vehicles, I believe), the Brits and, earlier, in 1947-48, with the Czechoslovaks (rifles).

Kramer goes on to show how American policy-makers came to the realization, as a result of the Israeli victory over the Soviet supplied Arab armies, that Israel could be an asset to America in the region. Kramer's argument is that Israel, by being a kind of bad cop in the region, allowed America to set itself up as a more attractive arbiter than the Soviet Union. Here, I think he's right on. After all, Egypt decided to ditch the Soviet Union, because Sadat viewed the United States as the 'good cop' who would help him get the Sinai back from Israel and throw in more economic and military aid than the Soviets. Nowadays, the significance of this move is probably lost on most people. But in the Cold War, in 1979, before the fall of the Soviet Union, before anyone knew knew that it would begin to collapse in another 10 years, having a large Arab country like Egypt move into the American camp was a big deal.

The main theme that Kramer is getting at here is that Israel was and continues to be a tool/asset in the American quest to impose a "Pax Americana" in the Levant. It's too bad that he doesn't spell out what that means, exactly. Protecting Jordan against Syrian moves as happened in 1970? Or does it all boil down to Egypt, the strongest military power in the Levant area? I think these arguments are effective for explaining the Cold War origins of the US-Israel alliance, but less salient for today.

Kramer also explains that Israel without America as an allies would be more dangerous and less restrained. He says that if left alone, Israel would not hesitate to start another war should it feel isolated or insecure. This is a good, realistic argument. They only problem is that it might not convince a sceptical American public, because it seems to say that Israel has to be paid off in order not to cause trouble.

A more convincing argument, which Kramer doesn't spend enough time on, is an argument I read once in Dennis Ross's memoirs, I believe in the introduction. Ross said that if it weren't for America's continuing, enduring support for Israel after 1967, the Arabs would never have given up their hopes of wiping Israel off the map. America was the reason why Sadat made peace with Israel. The desire of Assad Sr. to get American dollars for his stagnant country was the reason why he entered into talks with Barak in 2000. American support for Israel has made it a undeniable fact for most Middle Eastern heads of state (except for Ahmadinejad). The big problem is that the public hasn't caught on. Many Arab publics still seem to harbour hopes of getting rid of Israel, reversing existing peace agreements with it and even going to war against Israel.

Walt and Mearsheimer want to win over that public and their hopes of doing so are laudable. It would indeed serve American interests if the Arab public started to love America or to feel towards it the same admiring and positive way that the average Israeli views it. The only problem is that W & M don't elaborate on how they want to conquer the hearts of the Arab street.

The keep dangling all kinds of possibilities, but they don't seem to have invested any real thought in it. If W & M were in charge of America's Middle East policy, would they withdraw support from Israel entirely? Would they force Israel to accept a "just" peace (whatever that means) and to assent to the return of Palestinian refugees? Or would they force Israel to dismantle itself and become a bi-national state, including the Palestinian territories?

Frankly, I don't think that anything less than the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state will pacify those elements of Arab public opinion that Walt and Mearsheimer are trying to court. Even the most wide-reaching, paper-based Israeli peace proposal, the Geneva Initiative, was rejectedby radical Palestinians and by many Arabs, not to mention the ideas formulated at Camp David (2000) and at Taba. I doubt that even the Saudi initiative and Beirut Summit Resolution (2002), which proposed a complete withdrawal of Israel to the pre-1967 armistice lines, the establishment of a Palestinian state with [East] Jerusalem as it capital and a "just resolution of the refugee problem consistent with resolution 194" would be enough.

But let's just say that the US were to get serious about the Saudi Initiative and the subsequent Beirut Summit and were to embark on imposing it on Israel. Where are the guarantees for Israel that it would be secure in the future? What, other than force, will compel Israel to accept an agreement without negotiations? How will Israeli leaders convince their public to give up all control of Jewish sites in East Jerusalem? And how will Israel be persuaded to agree to allow the return of refugees, and probably their children, grand children and great grand children to its territory?

W & M don't go into the details, probably because they don't know enough and have other goals. They malign Camp David, which they depict almost like a conspiracy by Clinton and [the Jews] Dennis Ross and Aaron Miller to force the Palestinians to accept an Israeli peace proposal. But what do W & M want???

Friday, April 21, 2006

Fuad Siniora Moving in the Right Direction

See my earlier post on this below. Reuters reports that Lebanese PM Siniora is asking Secretary General Kofi Annan to "confirm the specific steps required by the UN to recognize Lebanese sovereignty over the territory of the Shaba Farms." The farms are currently occupied by Israel, which, like the rest of the world, recognizes their status as SYRIAN territory. Syria has (not surprisingly) declared that negotiations over the territory should be conducted only after an Israeli withdrawal. Typical prevarication on their part. How should Israel react? I think it would be a good move to announce Israel's willingness to return the territory to Lebanon as part of a peace settlement. By the way, I read an article in Ha'aretz a long time ago by someone who studied all the old maps, and it appears as if the farms should actually be Lebanese territory.

1/3 of PBS Affiliate Stations Take Responsible Stance: No Denial of the Armenian Genocide

[ADDITION: There is now a poll on MSNBC on whether PBS should air the panel or not. PLEASE VISIT THE POLL AND VOTE "NO"!]

Last weekend, a new hourlong documentary on the Armenian genocide aired on PBS stations across the country. Strangely enough, PBS also decided to follow the documentary with a 4-member panel discussion. That panel included two "scholars" who, the New York Times reports, "defend the Turkish government's claim that a genocide never took place." After appeals by members of Congress and Armenian groups, 1/3 of PBS affiliate stations decided not to air the panel. I say kudos to them and shame on the other 2/3! Could you imagine a documentary on the Shoah being followed by a panel that included two Holocaust deniers?

In the actual discussion that ensued, I am happy to say that the deniers were trounced by the defenders of historical truth. Unfortunately, that is not at all the case in academia as a whole - there are still many Ottomanists who won't go anywhere near the Armenian genocide for fears of being denied funding by or access to archives in Turkey. In any case, the fact that in this case the deniers were defeated does not vindicate the decision to give them even a second of air time.

I found this to be a rather silly observation by the NYT journalist in light of the other issues involved:

But the fact that so many stations caved is a measure of something else: PBS's growing vulnerability to pressure and, perhaps accordingly, the erosion of viewers' trust in public television.

Maybe that's true, but it's hardly the big story here!

Did you know that less than 30 states currently officially recognize the Armenian genocide? Israel and the United States are not among them. Disgraceful, no? Let's do something about it. Jews should be at the forefront of that struggle.

Tony Judt on Mearsheimer and Walt

In a New York Times op-ed, "A Lobby, Not a Conspiracy," Tony Judt bemoans the absence of mainstream media discussion of the Mearsheimer and Walt study. He attributes it to commentators' fears of being labeled antisemitic:
Each of these considerations might reasonably account for the mainstream press's initial indifference to the Mearsheimer-Walt essay. But they don't convincingly explain the continued silence even after the article aroused stormy debate in the academy, within the Jewish community, among the opinion magazines and Web sites, and in the rest of the world. I think there is another element in play: fear. Fear of being thought to legitimize talk of a "Jewish conspiracy"; fear of being thought anti-Israel; and thus, in the end, fear of licensing the expression of anti-Semitism.
I say, thank God that people are afraid of taking seriously reports of yet another Jewish conspiracy. I think a little sensitivity, even gingerness, is perfectly appropriate here. Jews have legitimate reasons for believing that this study is dangerous because it singles them out as particularly powerful and subversive of "true" American interests. I definitely don't think we should be looking to the European media as barometers of a healthy discourse on Israel. Maybe people in the American media are simply being responsible. And perhaps "fear" is not exactly the right word: I mean, it's not like anyone thinks American Jews are about to throw rocks at journalists. I'd substitute "responsible" or "tactful."

On the other hand, as I've said before, I am worried that the absence of debate will be interpreted as further evidence that such a Jewish conspiracy exists. That is why, again, I would start by presenting alternative scenarios and starting a debate on what exactly M&W think constitutes "true American interests" vs. Jewish interests. I think that will make it very clear just how insidious this whole thing is.

The biggest problem I have with Judt's piece is actually his failure to acknowledge just how deeply flawed this study is. I don't think piecemeal condemnation is a morally or politically defensible choice.

Thanks to Noah S. for sending me this link.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

German Government Reaction to Brutal Attack on German-Ethiopian in Potsdam

A few days ago, a German citizen of Ethiopian origin was viciously assaulted late at night. Apparently, the victim, who is currently in an induced coma and still in mortal danger, managed to reach his wife's voicemail by cell phone during the attack. In the background of the recording, one can hear people yelling racist slurs. A taxi driver intervened in the scene and chased away two men. According to his testimony, they seemed to have been skinheads or other right-wing extremists (bomber jackets, very short hair...fairly plausible conclusion given the context). This is what CDU Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble had to say, quoted in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung:
„Wir wissen die Motive nicht, wir kennen die Täter nicht“, sagte Schäuble noch am Donnerstag im Deutschlandradio Kultur. „Es werden auch blonde blauäugige Menschen Opfer von Gewalttaten, zum Teil sogar von Tätern, die möglicherweise nicht die deutsche Staatsangehörigkeit haben.“

[We don't know what the motives were; we don't know who the perpetrators are. People with blond hair and blue eyes are also victims of violence, in part even by perpetrators who possibly do not have German citizenship].
An unbelievable remark, no? He should be censured by Angela Merkel.

In the meantime, the German police have arrested two suspects. Their initial indictment notes that xenophobia and right-wing extremism were highly likely motives in the attack on the victim.

Fuad Siniora on Hezbollah

Just saw Lebanese PM Siniora on CSPAN. A lot of waffling. Obviously he couldn't really say anything substantive about questions like Iranian and Syrian influence. But one thing I found interesting. Someone asked a question about Hezbollah. At first, he gave the usual garbage about Hezbollah's important contributions to Lebanon, ending the occupation by the Izraeeli army. But then he said: Hezbollah is a Lebanese party, and all its objectives are to further the interests of Lebanon. Then, later, the Sheba farms issue came up, and he said that he'd talked to American officials and there had been progress. So: this stuff about Hezbollah could be interpreted as praise for the organization, but at the same time, it is also an effort to limit its activities. I interpret this as follows: as long as Hezbollah fights for the "liberation" of the farms, its operations will be deemed legitimate. But after that, it's raison d'etre is up. By focusing on LEBANESE interests, Siniora is denying Hezbollah the right to link their cause with the Palestinians. It might be worth it for Israel to show some openness toward a deal, a real settlement that would involve the farms. Of course, Lebanon and Syria have to make the first moves (according to int'l law, the farms are Syrian not Lebanese territory). This could be a very good opportunity to force Syria into doing something that it doesn't really want to do.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

FBI To Raid Archive in Pursuit of AIPAC

The FBI wants to review the papers of the late Washington muckraker Jack Anderson as part of an investigation of Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, two former officials with the American Israel Public Affairs Committe (AIPAC). Apparently, Anderson hadn't worked in 15 years when he died in December. For analysis see the JPost.

Monday, April 17, 2006

European Condemnation of Tel Aviv Suicide Bombing

Obviously a condemnation of the bombing, but this time it is coupled with an indictment of the Hamas and the PA government that preceded it. The op-ed argues that Hamas, unlike its predecessor, has made its support of terorism clear and open. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung argues that Hamas's claim that the bombing was "self-defence" characterizes the organization's misanthropic worldview, which is shaped by the "crude assumption, that the land of the Middle East has been polluted through its settlement by Jews."

Das Gute an der palästinensischen Autonomiebehörde ist die Klarheit, die von ihr ausgeht: Sie wird von der Terrorgruppe Hamas geführt, die Israels Existenzrecht und somit jegliche Friedensverhandlungen ablehnt. Jassir Arafat hatte es stets verstanden, die Weltöffentlichkeit hinters Licht zu führen. Die Hamas aber lässt nun keinen Zweifel mehr an ihren Absichten.

Der Terroranschlag am Ostermontag, exekutiert von der Palästinenser-Miliz „Islamischer Heiliger Krieg“, wird von der Hamas als „Recht auf Selbstverteidigung“ gerechtfertigt. Darin drückt sich das menschenverachtende Weltbild der Hamas aus, das von der kruden Annahme geprägt ist, der Boden der Nahost-Region werde durch die bloße Besiedlung durch Juden verunreinigt.

Friday, April 14, 2006

JTS Taps Stanford's Arnold Eisen

A Jewish Theological Seminary trustee described the head of Stanford's Jewish Studies program to me as "open, but unwilling to compromise on halacha." As Shmuel Rosner blogs on a site devoted to tracking the future of the JTS, the rabbinate itself absorbs a blow with this appointment.

Greek Bishop: "Gospel of Judas" is a "Zionist Forgery

Unbelievable. A Greek Orthodox bishop called the recently discovered Coptic manuscript a "Zionist conspiracy," reports the Middle East Times. It was "designed to cause scandal." Of course, he means ZIONISTS not Jews.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Mearsheimer & Walt - Americans are buying it!

I just heard Larry Wilkerson on CSPAN giving a very smart talk about the failure of the White House's foreign and defense policies. Wilkerson is a retired colonel in the US Army (that's just one rank below General), and he is best known for serving as Colin Powell's Chief of Staff in the State Department. He is a big Powell-backer of course. He is currently teaching at William & Mary College. Anyway, I agree with many of the things he was saying. Then, during question time, some weirdo from Interpress Agency asked about Mearsheimer & Walt.

Wilkerson prefaced his remarks by pointing to some "egregious errors" in the study. He said that he was currently having his students read it, and one undergrad asked whether they same could not be said about the Cuban-American lobby as about the [at this point he paused a bit, searching for the right word] Israel-lobby. He said: yes, the Cubans are even more powerful, but the Middle East is of far greater strategic importance to the US than the Caribbean. Then he said something about how the study revealed some rather obvious truths, but these were truths that people were afraid to say out loud at cocktail parties - they were things whispered in dark corners. In short, Wilkerson seemed to be buying some of the study's central allegations: America has been acting against its interests in the Middle East BECAUSE of the Israel Lobby. He then said that after having assigned the study for his class, he has already felt the pressure from the university. He implied that this was evidence of "the Lobby's" (when he used this phrase, he attributed it to M&W) power.

If people like Wilkerson believe this stuff, M&W are winning the battle. It seems that the only people who are really criticizing them are Jews. For most Americans, that is likely to confirm their impression that M&W are basically right, even if there are some mistakes. I think this puts those who oppose the study's conclusions in a no-win situation. The more Jews deny, the more Americans believe. But if we don't challenge, people will also believe it.

You might say that it doesn't really matter what these guys are writing because no policy-makers are actually listening to them...but I think that the more these kinds of myths are repressed, the less they are forced to be responsible to reality. What I mean is that because people start believing that there is this secret truth that "the Lobby" is preventing those in power from seeing, and because they imagine themselves to be impotent via "the Lobby's" forces, they are never forced to examine that myth critically and to consider its actual policy implications. Given taht the current White House policy is doomed to fail - these guys are not going to get anything right anytime soon - eventually people might attribute that failure to "the Lobby's" influence.

The solution - force M&W to say what THEY would prescribe. Force them to propose alternative policies. Shift attention back to M&W's views of the Middle East their foreign policy proposals, rather than focusing on their interpretation of American foreign policy, which they've read through conspiracy-theory lenses.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Canada's Inuit and Israel's Bedouin

From the sound of it, Israel's Bedouin population is infinitely better off than Canada's Inuit. According to an article published on April 11, 2006 in the Globe and Mail:

OTTAWA — Nunavut is facing "a moment of crisis" just seven years into the much-heralded creation of Canada's third territory, suffering from high unemployment, a 75-per-cent school dropout rate and a host of social ills.

A final report on the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement released yesterday blames the education system for failing to produce literate youth, which has in turn allowed a situation in which non-Inuit outsiders land most top government jobs.


Other findings in the report include:

Only 25 per cent of Inuit students graduate from high school. Rates of suicide, smoking, sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis far exceed national averages.

A special program to increase the number of Inuit teachers is only graduating between eight and 12 a year, failing to meet demand.

I have to say, this article certainly made me appreciate the strength of families among the Bedouin, something that I usually tend to view as very oppressive. Only 25 percent graduate from high school?? That's crazy 3rd World. I'm sure among the Bedouin, at least 75 percent if not more graduate. Sure, there are problems with drug abuse, but I doubt that they amount to anywhere near the kinds of problems that exist in Canada's north. Of a population of 30, 000 Inuit (I never knew how many there were), they're able to graduate only 8-10 teachers every year?! Granted, the Bedouin in the Negev number about 120, 000, but I wouldn't be surprised if the number of Bedouin who graduate from Teacher's Colleges every year stands around 70 if not a 100, and that number is only increasing. Yesterday, I was at a little conference held at Ben-Gurion U in the framework of the program as part of which I teach English in Kseife and a female Bedouin Ph.D. student gave a PowerPoint presentation in which she showed that there has been something like a 300 percent rise in the number of female Bedouin students at the university in the past 7 years. In fact, they now outnumber male Bedouin students.

"Wild Speculation" on Iran

Apparently, Bush used the phrase "wild speculation" 8 times in his press conference yesterday!

Monday, April 10, 2006

US May Nuke Iran Reports Seymour Hersh

According to Hersh, writing in the latest edition of the New Yorker, the US has passed the point of no return with Iran. In this scenario, the bunker-busting bombs would be nuclear. The Israeli role is worth noting: the specter of an Israeli strike on Iran is said to motivate Bush administration figures to elaborate war plans. I'm reminded of Dick Cheney's warning on Imus: we can only restrain them for so long! It's hard to get a clear idea of what the consensus in the Israeli security establishment is. Richard Perle commented on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer tonight that Hersh has been wildly wrong in the past. I can't name such an instance, but this is heavy stuff at any rate.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

AJC in the News

Interesting article about the American Jewish Committee in Ha'aretz.
The AJC is not the best-known in the plethora of American Jewish organizations. But it is among the most respected, according to Jonathan Sarna, a professor at Brandeis University and one of the foremost experts on American Jewish history. Though not as visible as organizations like American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)and the Anti-Defamation League, in some ways, it functions like both of them combined in that it lobbies for Israeli interests (though AJC does not refer to itself as a lobby), but also aims to protect Jews everywhere from anti-Semitism. The AJC has been called 'the State Department of the Jews' - a term Harris insists the organizations didn't coin. Still, he says, the AJC's international presence is, indeed, formidable.

This is also pertinent to the Mearsheimer & Walt affair. See AJC Director David Harris's comment:
Harris says, however, that the powers of the American Jewish lobby are exaggerated. As for the recent controversial article by Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephan Walt (alleging that the American Jewish lobby pushes the U.S. into foreign policy decisions contrary to its own interests) Harris calls it a "tendentious and one-sided" report that "seeks to demonize the American Jewish community as a force that works contrary to US interests, that yields excessive power, that works in mysterious ways."

The "Dersh" responds to Walt-Mearsheimer

Here is Alan Dershowitz's response to the Walt-Mearsheimer "Working Paper". I haven't read it carefully yet, but thought I should at least put up the link lest I forget about it.

Toronto's Jews

More than a quarter of Toronto's Jews are Israelis, Ha'aretz reports. Hardly a big surprise to those who know the city. A large majority of them are lower- or middle-class; 2/3 earn less than $40,000 CDN, and 14.5% live below the poverty line!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Nazis had Einsatzgruppe Ready in 1942 to Exterminate Jews in Eretz Yisrael

A new study by two German historians, Klaus-Michael Mallman and Martin Cüppers reveals that the Nazis had a unit waiting in Athens to carry out the extermination of the Jews in Palestine with the help of local Arab collaborators (the latter is not necessarily a major part of the research - it was simply emphasized in the Ynet article). Ha'aretz has since reported on this study as well. I have also found the reference:

Klaus-Michael Mallmann und Martin Cüppers, "Beseitigung der jüdisch-nationalen Heimstätte in Palästina -Das Einsatzkommando der Panzerarmee Afrika 1942," in Deutsche, Juden, Völkermord. Der Holocaust als Geschichte und Gegenwartvon Jürgen Matthäus/Klaus-Michael Mallmann, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2006.

One of the SS personalities involved in this unit was Walter Rauff, who died unmolested in Chile. The link is to a Wikipedia article which alleges that Rauff was protected by Allende!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

UN Human Rights Council

The US has decided not to contest for the new UN Human Rights Council, which is replacing the Human Rights Commission (good riddance - it was a disgrace!). Apparently, the Americans were afraid that they would not be elected to the council. I have to say that with Abu Ghraib, which might just be the tip of the iceberg, and Guantanamo, the Americans don't really deserve to be on this council - though I am not sure that China, Pakistan, and Iran, all of whom are candidates, are any better. All this brings me to the following appeal - the real point of this post. How much longer are Americans going to tolerate this prison in Guantanamo? It's shameful. Let's make sure to talk about it. At this point, I simply do not trust this administration to a) protect basic human rights, or b) collect any useful intelligence from terrorism suspects. They have been such bunglers - on the ethical as well as the national security fronts!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Neo-con Idealists - "Still Right"?

Marcus McGee argues that their belief in democracy's universal validity was in some sense confirmed by Iraqis' participation in elections despite threats to their lives. Democracy has so far failed in Iraq because of insurgents and terorrists, not because the majority of Iraqis are opposed to democracy.

US War Planners Should Listen to Israel Regarding Iran

The author of the blog "The Washington Note," a Beltway insider, has this on the diffident stance, he says, the Israeli security establishment is taking to the US strategy of pronounced escalation with Iran, "leaked," in the London Sunday Telegraph.

It's nice to see Hans Blix back in action. It's Colin Powell's birthday today. Perhaps he has an opinion on the state of Iran's nuclear program.

Note that the American Jewish Committee has taken out a full page ad in today's NYT, which sports "an overlay map implying that future Iranian nuclear missiles would be able to strike deep into China, not just anywhere in Europe and the Middle East."

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Hasidim go crazy on NYPD

Well, I have to say, I kind of like this. Symbolically at least - I do not mean to condone violence against the police! I'm just sick of Jews getting "beat on" in France, Russia, Crown Heights or wherever. If everyone else can wild out to protest police brutality, why shouldn't Jews (and I mean real גלות Jews, not the ones living in Israel!) be allowed to let loose once in a while?

Kadima and Labor Talking

Oh so all this nonsense was just a diversionary tactic?
"A senior Labor official said that the recent 'spins' on Peretz's moves to form an 'emergency social government' were a 'smokescreen' intended to conceal contacts between Labor and Kadima."
They sure had me fooled.

Iranian Maneuvers

This time it's surface-to-sea torpedoes. The Russians are starting to get annoyed. This thing is escalating in a hurry.

Monday, April 03, 2006

No "Social Front" with the Right-Wing Parties

It looks like Peretz has suddenly disavowed trying to form a coalition government with the right-wing and ultra-orthodox parties. Shas and Meretz have recommended that Olmert form the next government. Both are being realistic. It is interesting (though hardly a surprise) that Ovadia Yosef gave his approval to this decision on Shas's part - after all, he has been railing against the disengagement plan and Kadima since the campaign began. Anyway, hopefully everyone will come to their senses soon. I think the NRP-NU will stay in the opposition. The big question is what will happen with Yisrael Beitenu. I don't know if Kadima or Israeli society can afford to alienate the Russian electorate even further. Liberman certainly wants to be in the government. But given the latter's opposition to further withdrawals, I am not sure how he can join Kadima in a coaltion. Maybe Yisrael Beitenu will be happy to form the official opposition, where the party can continue to feed the resentment of its marginalized voters and abstain from taking responsibility for the security situation as well as the economy.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Hamas and its National Liberation Rhetoric

Noah hinted at something really interesting in his April 1 post on the Isma'il Haniyye piece in the Guardian. Haniyye was using national freedom fighter rhetoric, tailored for European readers. He really stuck to the standard Palestinian narrative associated with the P.L.O. and Fatah:
"No plan will ever work without a guarantee, in exchange for an end to hostilities by both sides, of a total Israeli withdrawal from all the land occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; the release of all our prisoners; the removal of all settlers from all settlements; and recognition of the right of all refugees to return."


"Little will change for the Palestinians under Olmert's plan. Our land will still be occupied and our people enslaved and oppressed by the occupying power. So we will remain committed to our struggle to get back our lands and our freedom."
Haniyye's piece is devoid of the Hamas rhetoric about Palestine being Islamic holy land! There are no references to jihad and or to God-sanctioned resistance. Hamas, short for harikat al-muqawama al-islamiyya (the Islamic Resistance Movement) might as well change its name to Fatah.

What makes Haniyye's editorial especially disingenuous is that Hamas is trying to play victim. Thus, we find Haniyye bitching about European and U.S.'s policy-makers' "double-standards" vis-a-vis his government. After basically killing the Oslo process, a process underwritten by EU and US financial and political support, with its bloody terrorist attacks, Hamas suddenly wants them to kiss and make-up. How different would things have looked if Hamas had adopted its new "enlightened" stance in 1993?

The one thing that I do think is worth thinking about is Hamas's past commitment to the tahadiyya (تهادية) - a kind of lull in fighting agreed upon by most of the Palestinian factions, except for the Islamic Jihad- which it really appears to have enforced for a long period last year. This agreement was reciprocated by the IDF until it began to unravel in the run-up to the Palestinian elections, I believe. In any case, it has to be looked at carefully so that potential opportunities are not missed. I am not saying pressure should be taken off of Hamas. Recognition of the Hamas government by a few governments here and there will only make things more difficult, in the same way that dissension between European governments and the US on Iraq might well have led to Saddam Hussein believing that there would not be a war. But, I do think that Israel can't afford to miss an opportunity.

Just as important is that the post-Camp David (2001) "no-partner" narrative be re-examined. The fact that Israelis now view the idea of Palestinian partners in future peace negotiations as a complete joke and as absurd is not some natural, spontaneous outcome of the events of the intifada. The terrorist attacks certainly contributed to it, but the fact that the Palestinians, including very moderate voices among them, have become irrelevant to most Israelis and the fact that any talk of negotiations is greeted with guffaws by the average Israeli, also has to do with the spin put on Camp David by Barak to cover his ass. We can't lose sight of the fact that an agreement was very close at hand at Camp David.

There's a lot more to be said on this matter. Anyone interested should read Yoram Meital's book Peace in Tatters (2006, Lynne Rienner). The Hebrew edition is called שלום שבור - "Broken Peace". Yoram is a prof at Ben-Gurion University's Middle Eastern Studies department and current head of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle Eastern Studies and Diplomacy. They have some really good conferences and frequently get speakers from Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian territories. Not long ago, before the Palestinian elections, we had a Fatah politician from the Gaza Strip here -a real moderate who spent a lot of time in Israeli prisons in the 1980s and came out speaking fluent Hebrew and with a very nuanced, intelligent view of Israeli society.

Auschwitz Escapee Rudolf Vrba Dies

Haaretz reports that Vrba died at the age of 82. In 1944, Vrba and another prisoner, Alfred Wetzler escaped from Auschwitz and circulated a report warning of the immiment destruction of Hungarian Jewry. The Allies ignored the escapees' calls to bomb Auschwitz. After the war, Vrba, lived in Czechoslovakia until 1958, when he immigrated to Israel. However, Vrba left Israel for London after only 2 years. He eventually ended up as a professor at the University of British Columbia. Until the end of his life, he was convinced that the Hungarian Jewish elite had not done enough to prevent the community's destruction. I think this is chronicled in his memoir, I Cannot Forgive.

Coalition Shenanigans

NRP-National Union recommend Peretz as PM. It looks like the Labor Party is mounting a serious challenge to Kadima. A number of parties might be recommending that Katsav appoint Peretz as the person to form the next government, rather than Olmert. The Labor Party had previously declared its opposition to sitting in the same government as Yisrael Beitenu, but apparently the NRP-NU is okay. Rather sophistic. Well, are they serious? The right-wing parties have suddenly discovered social policy, and are in favor of supporting the "social bloc" advocated by Labor. To me, this seems like a rather opportunistic attempt to block an Olmert government which is more likely to deliver a 2nd disengagement (or as Olmert calls it, "convergence") than a weak Labor-led coalition. Also, I really wonder if Meretz would join a coalition consisting of Labor, the NRP-NU, United Torah Judaism, and Shas among others. Maybe Peretz is simply trying to increase his bargaining position.

I read an interesting column by Gideon Levy that Peretz should embrace the Defense portfolio, instead of fighting to get the finance ministry:

If Amir Peretz really wants to generate change, he must demand one portfolio for himself: the defense portfolio. If there is one appointment in the new government that could fire the imagination and herald a societal turning point, it would be this. If the chairman of the Labor Party wants to become a statesman and perhaps also the next leader of Israel, his path must now take him to the Defense Ministry.

Are we headed for war with Iran?

The Iranians have tested a new underwater missile:
"Iran announced its second major new missile test within days, saying Sunday it has successfully fired a high-speed underwater missile capable of destroying huge warships and submarines."
In addition to this, DebkaFile reports that the British military recently concluded that war with Iran is "inevitable."

Palestinian FM Zahar: No place for Israel in Palestine

This sounds more like the Hamas we know:

Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar was quoted in a weekend interview to a Chinese news agency defending Hamas' declared goal of eventually destroying Israel.

Zahar, a prominent Hamas leader sworn into the Palestinian Authority cabinet last week, told the Xinhua news agency that he is certain the goal will be realized, because "There is no place for Israel on this land."

According to the interview, Zahar maintained that Palestinians have no problem with the Jewish religion, only with the Israeli occupation, and said he does not rule out the possibility of Jews, Muslims and Christians living together in one Islamic state.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Ismail Haniyeh Sounds Off in Guardian

So Hamas seems to have been widely credited with a classic, western-style election campaign, of successfully imitating the rhetoric and the messaging of western reformers. Yet when you actually hear these guys on television or radio or read their manifestos in English language newspapers, they come off sounding rather unprofessional and even histrionic. PM Haniyeh's piece in the Guardian is a good example.

Is this read by the Guardian's readership as "authentic" freedom fighter-speak? Do opinion surveys of Palestinians really support the claim: "No plan will ever work without a guarantee, in exchange for an end to hostilities by both sides, a total Israeli withdrawal from all the land occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; the release of all our prisoners; the removal of all settlers from all settlements; and recognition of the right of all refugees to return. On this, all Palestinian factions and people agree." Of course not. So will part of the Hamas government's predicted meltdown involve not only incompetence in collecting garbage and operating sewage systems, but the alienation of sympathizers abroad through such statements?

One more question: would an American newspaper print this? Have they?