Wednesday, January 31, 2007
About a month ago, the National Committee for the Heads of the Arab Local Authorities and the Supreme Follow-up Committee of the Arabs in Israel released a report on "The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel" (החזון העתידי לערבים הפלסטינים בישראל). It has been almost unanimously rejected by Jewish Israelis from across the political spectrum, although the kind of explosion that one might have expected from its contents has not yet taken place. Among others, Yossi Alpher and Ze'ev Schiff (here is the Hebrew version) have criticized it in the strongest terms. On the other hand, in an op-ed published in the Daily Star, Amal Helow hails the report as a sign that the "Palestinian community within Israel has taken its first steps toward full empowerment."
I have now had a chance to read the report in its entirety, and I want to use this opportunity to kick off a discussion on its substance that will be informed by perspectives from history and political science on democracy, ethnic minorities, and nation states.
I believe that the "Future Vision" report articulates a consensus about the State of Israel - among its Arab citizens as well as its Arab neighbors, and among many in the Western academy - which must be subjected to rigorous critique. It is unfortunate that those who reject the report are likely to be tarred with the brush of intolerance or anachronistic nationalism, and that the only ones who will challenge its conclusions are likely to be Jews. But it seems that the Jews are perpetually out of step with the prevailing forces of the day. Just as they were once too liberal and cosmopolitan when it was fashionable to believe in integral nationalism, they are now too particularistic and nationalistic when the enlightened lords of European pseudo-liberalism have announced the end of the nation state. Of course, as readers of the report will quickly see, its authors can hardly be said to embrace the ideals of their champions in the West. But that is no problem, for exceptions can be made for the oppressed, the subaltern, and the colonized. And at the same time, one can hold the Jews to a higher standard.
Here is the report in English (PDF), Hebrew (PDF), and Hebrew (HTML). I have not seen an Arabic version.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Max Rodenbeck, the Economist's Middle East correspondent, has reviewed Michael Oren's new book Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present. But I'd recommend skipping his review and looking at Zach's piece about Oren's appearance on The Daily Show with John Stewart instead. Zach also has some interesting thoughts on the challenge that Oren's book might present to the orthodox Saidians who unfortunately run the American academy.
I refer to Rodenbeck only because he directs several barbs at Oren, including this one:
Important context is missing from some of the book’s pages ... There is much gory detail about the Armenian genocide, but scant mention of the fact that Ottoman Turkey faced repeated invasion by a Russia whose czars, disastrously for the Ottomans’ Armenian subjects, claimed leadership of all Orthodox Christians. At several junctures, Oren paints Europe as stubbornly resistant to American policy, without adequately substantiating the charge or explaining European motives. We hear nothing of how America’s fateful, post-World War I decision to restrict immigration helped push desperate Jewish refugees toward Palestine.Rodenbeck's "missing context" is a non sequitur, as the Russian czars' claims to leadership over Orthodox Christians was irrelevant to the large majority of Ottoman Armenians who belonged to the Armenian Apostolic Church, not the Eastern Orthodox Church. As for America's decision to limit Jewish immigration in the interwar period - it was as morally reprehensible as the British refusal to allow those desperate Jewish refugees to immigrate to Palestine in order not to antagonize the local Arab population.
Rodenbeck also "calls out" the "American-born Israeli scholar" Oren for getting the causes of the 1982 Lebanese war wrong:
Commendably, in a work of such scope, there are very few errors of fact or omission. Yet, as a reserve major in the Israeli Army, Oren ought to know that Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon was not provoked by the P.L.O. “regularly striking” at Galilee. Yasir Arafat’s group was certainly an elemental threat to the Jewish state, but had actually been observing a long, American-brokered cease-fire before Ariel Sharon’s drive to Beirut.Indeed, as a reserve major in the Israeli Army and a veteran of that war who served in the paratroopers brigade, Oren ought to and probably does know a lot more than Rodenbeck about the causes of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. For example, he probably knows about the PLO's numerous violations of the 1981 cease-fire, which made life in Israel's north increasingly intolerable.
Monday, January 29, 2007
Israel was due for another suicide bombing. At around 9:40 AM local time a suicide bomber blew himself up in an Eilat bakery. So far, the attack has claimed the lives of 3 people (Ynet, Ha'aretz).
The targeting of a bakery (talk about a soft target) and the choice of Eilat, a resort town on the Red Sea, across from the Jordanian port of Aqaba and far from the center of the country, suggest just how difficult it has become for the terrorist organizations to mount suicide attacks inside Israel.
Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Brigades have taken responsibility. It is possible, however, that this was not the work of a group from the territories but of militants from Egypt or even Jordan.
There were some doubts about whether the bombing had a terrorist or a criminal background. In its initial dispatch from the scene, Ynet quoted a resident of the neighborhood named Shosh, who told reporters that she feels "like I am in Texas or the Wild West," (!) adding that she had often heard shouting from the houses nearby. Ynet readers were also quick to cast blame on local mafia elements. A reader who identified himself as Alperon from Yafo, declared that "this is what happens when you don't pay protection money on time." The Alperons are one of Israel's most infamous organized crime families.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Jeha has already reported on this, but the story seems to be spinning out of a control, with even Bad Vilbel asking, "What the hell? And then Israelis wonder why there is so much fear and paranoia about the IDF and Israel's intentions in Lebanon." I'm quoting the article from Naharnet in full:
Eight people were hospitalized Saturday after inhaling toxic gases from poisonous balloons dropped by Israeli warplanes over Upper Nabatiyeh in southern Lebanon, the National News Agency reported.I'm not sure what the origins of the balloons are - העיר [Ha'ir, "The City"] is the name of a local sort of newspaper with branches in different cities that features classifieds. I'm assuming this was some sort of promotion in the north and that the balloons simply drifted across the border. I have a hard time understanding how this story made the headlines, given the many questions it immediately raises.
NNA said among those who were rushed to hospital suffering from nausea and fatigue were a Lebanese staff sergeant, a recruit and An Nahar reporter Rana Jouni.
The agency said Israeli warplanes dropped at least 10 poisonous balloons with Hebrew markings over Upper Nabatiyeh at about 9 am Saturday.
NNA said contacts have been made between the Lebanese army command and the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, which has instructed an Italian peacekeeping unit to take samples from the balloons for examination. The agency said the results are likely to come out on Sunday.
NNA had earlier said that the Lebanese army's engineering unit headed to the area and destroyed the balloons by explosives.
The army, in a communiqué issued Friday, warned civilians against messing with the balloons and urged them to report finding them to the closest army unit.
How exactly did this reporter and the 7 other people get sick? Did they inhale the helium in the balloons? And how do warplanes drop balloons? Maybe these were more like beach balls? Well, I'm glad the Lebanese Army made sure to send its engineering units over to blow them up.
In conclusion, if you see any other objects with "Hebrew markings" on them, please stay away. And make sure the Jews don't come near the wells again.
April Fool's is more than 2 months away, guys!
Korea has not entered the Israeli imagination in the same way as Japan and China have. Although Samsung cell phones, LG washing machines, and Kia compacts have become consumer staples, Israelis generally have no real mental map of Korea and its place in East Asia. If they did, they would probably discover many commonalities, in addition to the obvious differences between the countries and their cultures. Indeed, many South Koreans, and not only the zealous evangelicals who send missionaries even to Iraq, see themselves as a chosen people whose fate bears strong resemblances to that of the Jews.
Koreans point to their long history of suffering and to the miraculous rise of the Republic of Korea in the past half-century as bases of comparison. They also view the millions of Koreans dispersed in China, the former Soviet Union, and America as diaspora communities with striking similarities to their Jewish counterparts in the world. In the U.S., Korean-Americans, even more than Chinese- or Indian-Americans, resemble American Jews in terms of their occupational patterns and their investment in education - with the Koreans following a pattern set by the Jewish immigrants nearly a century earlier.
For a long time, Korean perceptions of Israel were overwhelmingly positive. When South Koreans encountered Israel and the Jewish people in their school textbooks and in the media, they were presented with a heroic narrative about Israel's perseverance against all odds in the 1948 and 1967. For Koreans of a certain generation (now in its late 30s and early 40s), the word kibbutz still has romantic resonances.
But Israel's stock is rapidly dwindling. The last half-decade has perhaps done more damage than anything else. As in Europe and elsewhere, Israel is now Goliath with the Palestinians (or even the Arabs as a whole) playing David. Some Koreans now identify more with the Palestinians, and see the experience of the latter as akin to their own history under Japanese occupation - never mind that by any objective standards this is a disturbing fallacy of judgment.
A feature that appeared in a Korean internet newspaper yesterday about the the Hamas-Fatah clashes and the anniversary of Israel's "40-year-long occupation" speaks volumes about current Korean attitudes toward Israel. The article was written by a Korean scholar at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Hong Mi Jung, who has developed close friendships with Palestinian academics and professionals, mostly in the West Bank. Its headline asks,
이스라엘 검문소가 관대해진 이유는?A certain professor Sattar Kassem, a political scientist at Al-Najah University, who spoke to her in Nablus, told Hong that the checkpoints from Ramallah to Nablus had been relaxed due to the Palestinian infighting but that there had been no change in the number of checkpoints on the reverse route from Nablus to Ramallah.
Why have the Israeli checkpoints been eased?
She also investigated the report of gunfire directed at the Canadian mission in Ramallah, and she asked passersby in the city why they were no longer displaying portraits of Abbas. They respond that
"압바스는 이스라엘과 미국에 협력하고 있다"It should hardly come as a surprise that the article is sympathetic to the friends and acquaintances of the writer. But what is most disturbing is that Israelis only appear as soldiers, and that while Hong talks to many ordinary Palestinians, there is no such investigation of life in Israel. Obviously we shouldn't make too much of this - reporters have limited amounts of time, resources, and connections. However, the net effect of stories like Hong is predictable and disturbing: Koreans are getting a vivid sense of Palestinian society by sympathetic reporters and very little in the way of journalism about ordinary Israelis' fears and hopes.
Abbas is cooperating with Israel and America.
Growing anti-American sentiments in Korea have only exacerbated views of Israel, which has become increasingly linked in the Korean imagination to the U.S. Combine all this with the fact that Korea, just like China and Japan, will depend heavily on Arab and Iranian oil, and the outlook for the future of Korean-Israeli relations might look grim.
However, there is some hope. Unlike Europe, Korea has no history of antisemitism and no Muslim immigrant population to appease. The country's large Protestant population is also likely to continue supporting Israel - although its fantasies about the Holy Land may actually distort bilateral relations more than fostering them. But what Israel really needs to do is to embark on a campaign to win the minds of Koreans by appealing directly to their history, values, and interests. Israelis ignore Korea at their peril. There are obvious cultural bridges that can be built - for example via comparative studies of Korean Confucian philosophy and rabbinic literature, or through exchanges about diaspora experiences. In less lofty domains, the Korean and Israeli economies have a great deal in common and opportunities abound for partnerships that can benefit both countries.
Thanks to Jun for his translations and for teaching me the Korean alphabet among many other things.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
being kicked by a Lebanese Forces member (tayyar.org)
The latest attempt by Hizbullah and company to bring down the Siniora government in Lebanon has failed - at least for now. On the streets, Christian pro-government forces held their own against the anti-government Christian backers of Michel Aoun's FMP, while Sunni activists flexed enough muscle to thwart Hizbullah and Amal. But the key was outside intervention, including perhaps a restraining order by the Iranians, after pressure from the Saudis (see Ha'aretz). Or maybe it was the overt backing of King Abdullah as well as the U.S. (which is intent on preventing the victory of the Syrian-Iranian proxies) and France for the government. In any case, Siniora et al. seem to have acquired a new lease on life.
Meanwhile, most of the Sunni Arab world viewed the latest showdown in Lebanon as a must-win confrontation in the regional Sunni-Shi'a showdown. With Iraq in Shi'a hands and Syria in Iran's pockets, the Saudis can capitalize on widespread support from Sunnis who are still fuming about the execution of Saddam Hussein. This, in turn, has emboldened the Sunni supporters of the Lebanese government. Nasrallah has taken notice and trying to tread carefully.
On a related note, the Jordanian Mohammed al-Masri has an op-ed in the Daily Star about Jordan's position on the Sunni-Shi'a rift. The article is about Jordanian encounters with Shi'a Iraqi expatriates in their midst. Apparently, the Jordanian state is following a "zero-tolerance policy toward the public practice of Shiism." However, al-Masri concludes that the real threat to Jordan is not the practice of Shiism in the country or the specter of mass conversions by its Sunni population; rather, the real danger is
political Shiism: support for Shiite political organizations and acceptance of their political paradigmsAl-Masri goes on to say that
the sweeping support for Hizbullah during the war in Lebanon last summer was a clear manifestation of political Shiism,which is a sneaky way of criticizing the wide-scale support for Hizbullah in the Arab world during the war. Ultimately, he blames Israel for the rise of "political Shiism" - i.e., for the increasing threat to regimes like Jordan by Iran and its proxies:
As much as events in Iraq and interaction with Iraqi communities within Jordan lead to Jordanian antipathy toward Iraqi Shiites and Iran, the Israeli factor and potential conflict between Israel and Hizbullah still encourage support for Hizbullah-style Shiite organizations. Therefore it might be misleading to assume that new anti-Iranian feelings in Jordan are sustainable, when the Israel factor in regional developments could undermine them
Friday, January 26, 2007
The American people and its elected representatives should be asking a lot of questions about this policy. Is this the best way to pressure an Iran that is frighteningly recalcitrant on the nuclear issue? What is the endgame? One thing that is far too unclear -- even to Condoleezza Rice, it seems -- is the nature of political oversight here. On the other hand, to what extent are US military personnel on the ground willing and prepared to implement the strategy? Most troubling is the program's origins in heady planning sessions led by, among others, the national security advisor Elliot Abrams, the Administration's notorious pointman on the Middle East. The notion of pushing an image of Iran on the public as a central foe in the War on Terror, with tentacles stretching from Kabul to Beirut, occurred to Abrams et. al. during last summer's Lebanon War. Not that these "tentacles" don't exist, but I confess, I'm not entirely intoxicated by this...what a way to proceed with one of the fundamental foreign policy challenges of our time!
Thursday, January 25, 2007
It was the second-century church father Tertullian who famously asked, "What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem," in a polemical attack on the supremacy of classical, Graeco-Roman paideia (learning) among literate men of his time. Christians had no need of pagan intellectual traditions, Tertullian argued, they had their own body of texts to scrutinize and venerate -- they had "Jerusalem."
Behind Tertullian's strident objection, of course, lies the reality that Athens has a lot to do with Jerusalem. The Graeco-Roman and the Judaeo-Christian have never been far apart in the history of ideas. Modern scholars of various stripes have long noticed this, but, apparently, not until now in terms of the history of political thought. In December, the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, hosted a conference called "Political Hebraism: Jewish Sources in the History of Political Thought." (The Chronicle of Higher Education reviewed it this week). The meeting was organized by the political theorist Yoram Hazony. He and his fellow-travellers have a journal, Hebraic Political Studies, which
"aims to evaluate the place of the Jewish textual tradition, alongside the traditions of Greece and Rome...explore the political concepts of the Hebrew Bible and rabbinic literature, the significance of reflections on Judaic sources in the history of ideas, and the role of these sources in the history of the West."There seems to be a heavy emphasis on early modern thinkers, but the Hebraizing tendencies of medieval politicians and political theorists receive treatment too. I wonder what's to be said for the ancients...
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Israeli readers may remember the "Ceif" bath product campaign and the teenaged Luisana Lopilato showering. At the same time, she would cry out, "Muy Ceif"'! [How fun!] in a baby-ish tone. She, or the ad, was subsequently ridiculed on Eretz Nehederet, one of Israel's leading (satirical news) shows.
A milder version of that commercial can be viewed on YouTube. The constant switching back and forth of childish and then at once grown-up, sexual behaviour is puzzling.
Another case in point. This advertisement below was taken from Rosh 1, a magazine which is published by Yediot Ahronot, also one of Israel's leading newspapers. The magazine is explicity intended for teenagers, as it says on the cover. The ad, from the October 2006 edition, might look pretty standard at first. But if one reads the text, it becomes pretty sickening. A rough translation to English would be, "The male teachers at school say that I'm a great student. Too bad the female teachers don't agree with them." The word "school" (Beit Sefer) in Hebrew is never used to refer to university, as it sometimes is in the US. It is clear that "school" refers to elementary to high school. Young girls, the prime readers of the magazine, are getting a frightening message here.
The magazine sets out to socialize them, and teach them to socialize each other, in some more ways. Below is an advice column, titled, "Yes, you got fatter." The column teaches girls how to relay to their girlfriends all that is wrong with them. Here are some sample problems it sets out to solve: "you dress terribly," "your haircut is horrible," "he doesn't want you," and "you eat too much."
Monday, January 22, 2007
There are two ways to read the recent murder of the Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink. Some fear that this is the beginning of an open season on those who, like Dink, challenge the ultra-nationalist vision of Turkey. On the other hand, the public and literary condemnations of the murder may also signal the self-assertion of Turkish liberals.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the murder in the strongest terms, but critics objected to the manner in which this condemnation was framed, especially in parts of the Armenian diaspora.
"A bullet has been fired at democracy and freedom of expression," Erdogan announced shortly after news of Dink's assassination reached him. But Dink had been prosecuted for exercising his freedom of expression under the infamous article 301 of Turkey's penal code. Prior to his murder, Dink and other Turkish citizens who spoke out against the denial of the Armenian Genocide, discrimination against Kurds, and the lack of tolerance in their society more generally, had been attacked in many of the same newspapers who now claimed that the murder had been a strike against Turkey. These declarations also masked the truth that Dink was singled out as an Armenian by his killer.
But the Turkish media also contained reflections on Turkish society's wider responsibility for Dink's death. Mehmet Ali Birand wrote in the Turkish Daily News that "301 killed Hrant Dink." Omer Taspinar, in Today's Zaman, declared that
We are all complicit in Hrant Dink’s murder. Turkey’s conspiracy-prone public debate is increasingly producing an anti-European, anti-American, anti-Kurd, anti-Armenian and anti-liberal nationalism.He denounced the witch-hunt against Turkish liberals:
Our incorrigible sense of insecurity has turned the founding ideology of the republic into an aggressive reflex against perceived enemies - -- enemies that we often create in our own imagination. How else can one explain the trials of Orhan Pamuk, Elif Safak and Hrant Dink in 2006? What about the shameful treatment of Professor Atilla Yayla for simply voicing an opinion?And called out Justice Minister Cemil Cicek
who not too long ago blamed the organizers of a conference on the Armenian question for “stabbing the Turkish nation in the back.”Nevertheless, the more liberal voices in Turkey are well aware of the real and imaginary threats firing nationalist passions in their country. PKK terrorism in southeastern Turkey continues to worry the country's leaders, and the week before the Hrant Dink assassination, Turkey saw a marked escalation in the rhetoric about Kirkuk, from where Iraqi oil is pumped to Ceyhan (see SPIEGEL for more).
Friday, January 19, 2007
On a recent visit to Israel, I spoke with a member of the IDF's most elite tank unit. I'll call him Amit. My interest in the state of tank warfare in the region had been piqued back in Berkeley by a conversation with an American reserve tank driver. He had contended that the Lebanon War last summer had debunked the myth of the Israeli-made Merkava tank's near invincibility, citing in particular the destruction of the tank, along with all of its personnel, which followed Hezbullah operatives over the border in the conflict's opening moments. The American Abrams tank, he told me, while lacking many of the Merkava's capabilities, had never been known to lose all of its crew in a single hit.
When I tattled on the Merkava to Amos, he quickly pointed out that the tank destroyed by Hezbullah likely wasn't the newest version, the Merkava 4. In Israel, the IDF's Amit confirmed that this tank was in fact an older version, the Merkava 2. The bomb placed under the tank weighed some 500kg. "Would a Merkava 4 have suffered the same fate?" I asked Amit. "No," he said. In fact, he claimed that a Merkava 4 had been hit by a charge nearly as powerful. Of the seven crew members inside, only one, sadly, a close friend of Amit, had perished.
From my conversation with Amit I gained some anecdotal insight into what went wrong in the last war -- at least with regard to tanks. Amit's unit, which only trains on Merkava 4, which is the most prestigious tank unit, and the first sent into combat, had not been inside a tank in full year when the fighting broke out! Why hadn't these soldiers, who went immediately to the front, to Kiryat Shemona and on to Metulla, been in a tank in so long? Quite simply, according to Amit, they had spent their time setting up roadblocks and manning checkpoints in the West Bank, in other words, doing police work.
Of course, the Merkava also faced world-class anti-tank weapons, launched by mobile, elusive two-man teams. Tank drivers, it seems, prefer to engage other tanks. The role of tanks in the so-called "asymmetrical warfare" of contemporary battles remains in flux.
Monday, January 15, 2007
By now, the denunciations of the report in Ha'aretz that Israelis and Syrians engaged in secret talks on a peace agreement from September 2004 until August 2006, well into the war between Israel and Hizbullah, have hit the news tickers. Unnamed cabinet ministers and a former aide to Sharon have called the news "nonsense." Likud MK Yuval Steinitz, who sometimes talks sense and more often goes crazy, referred to the news as "sleight of hand."
I have previously been skeptical of Syrian overtures, and I don't know what it means that this report is coming out now, but if the draft framework for negotiations published in Ha'aretz is accurate, I am willing to lift all objections. Frankly speaking, this agreement is too good to be true for Israel. The draft includes
- an end to hostilities and the commencement of bilateral relations
- the establishment of demilitarized zones on the areas of the Golan evacuated by Israel
- "Zones of reduced military forces ... in Israel west of the international border with Syria and in Syria east of the Golan Heights" whose depths will be in a 1:4 ratio in favor of Israel
- cooperation in "fighting terrorism of all kinds"
- "the solution of regional problems related to the Palestinians, Lebanese, and Iran"
- a settlement on water sources under which Syria promises not to "interrupt or obstruct natural flow of water in either quality or quantity in the Upper Jordan River, its tributaries, and Lake Tiberias"
- the establishment of a Syrian-administered "Peace Park" east of the border that will be open to Israeli tourists without an entry visa
Anyone who rejects such a plan does not have the long-term interests of the State of Israel in mind. If a peace deal along the lines of this draft is still possible, the government of Israel must pursue it.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Listening to Radio Sawa today, I was again reminded of the dire need for this American-owned Arabic language radio station in the Middle East. In a broadcast today (morning, Eastern Standard Time), the radio station reported the recent appointment of Ghaleb Majadle, a (Muslim) Arab member of the Knesset with the Labour party, to the position of Minister of Science, Culture and Sport. Sawa then described the border-line racist criticisms of the appointment by members of Avigdor Lieberman's "Israel Beitenu" party. However, rather than focusing exclusively on the statements of Lieberman's populists, the Radio Sawa article linked to the broadcast also printed the denunciations of the remarks made by members of the Labour party and by Mikhael Eitan of the Likud:
[For his part, [Knesset] representative [Mikhael] Eitan from the opposition Likud Party rejected what he described as racist statements and said that they are unacceptable for anyone who believes in equality and democracy].
I'm sure that mainstream Arab news outlets, including al-Jazeera, will not even cover this event, or will focus only on the outrageous comments by the clowns of Israel Beitenu. A quick Google search that I ran for غالب مجادل (Ghaleb Majadle, the name of the Arab Minister) and a look at al-Jazeera's site actually revealed nothing.
In a recent column, Ha'aretz writer Aluf Benn remarks that
The immediate response of many Israelis to the news that their prime minister is visiting China is "what is he looking for there?" The cynics among them point to the circumstances and the timing and perceive Ehud Olmert's visit to Beijing as a convenient escape from the oppressive problems facing him at home ...As usual, Benn has hit the nail right on the head. Although there is plenty of appreciation for China's importance in the Israeli business world and parts of the academy (engineering and the sciences), the political sector, the pundits and opinion-makers of the country are hopelessly fixated on Europe and the United States. It is an arrogance toward the east (far and near) born of provincialism.
While the whole world understands that "China's economic growth is the main international story of the past decade," Israeli policymakers seem clueless about the geopolitical and economic changes that will result from it:
Israel has watched all these developments from a distance. Immersed in itself and in the conflict with the Palestinians, the Israeli leadership is interested only in what is thought and said about it in Washington, and to a lesser but increasing degree, in Europe as well.Israel must start paying attention to what countries like China and Vietnam as well as the more established economic powerhouses of Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore think about it. Israelis have to start communicating with the rest of the world - preferably through their languages and cultures. It must also stop wasting time and start solving the problems that are likely to present insurmountable obstacles to long-term growth. A withdrawal from the West Bank and even the Golan, if that is what it takes, is a small price to pay for a place in the world order 20 years from now.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
It has become widely accepted among pro-Palestinian advocates that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's "generous offer" to Yasir Arafat at the July 2000 Camp David summit was, in fact, an insidious attempt to further cement Israeli control over the Palestinians. According to this narrative, which calls itself a corrective to Zionist propaganda, and, which, has even been accepted by many Israeli leftists, the Palestinians were entirely justified in rejecting Barak's overtures, as the offer was not generous at all. Jimmy Carter has given new credence to this myth in his book.
The lies told by the Palestinian leadership and their witting as well as unwitting propagandists in the West are all the more astounding as they contradict the recollections of U.S. President Clinton as well as several key American negotiators. Dennis Ross has tried for years to talk sense into the myth-makers, but apparently it is easier to continue believing that everything Israel does is actually aimed at cementing the oppression of the Palestinians. In an op-ed published in the New York Times earlier today, Ross accuses Carter of
misrepresent[ing] the Middle East proposals advanced by President Bill Clinton in 2000, and in so doing undermin[ing], in a small but important way, efforts to bring peace to the region.Apparently, Carter in his book contrasted two maps which he labeled the “Palestinian Interpretation of Clinton’s Proposal 2000” and the “Israeli Interpretation of Clinton’s Proposal 2000.” However, as Ross explains,
The Arafat apologists insist to this day that the Palestinian leader made the right choice, dismissing the quip attributed to Abba Eban that "the Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity" as a vicious lie. But considering what the Palestinians could have obtained in 2000 if they had accepted Barak's offer instead of launching the second intifadah, Eban's statement is still right on the money. As Dennis Ross writes,
The problem is that the “Palestinian interpretation” is actually taken from an Israeli map presented during the Camp David summit meeting in July 2000, while the “Israeli interpretation” is an approximation of what President Clinton subsequently proposed in December of that year. Without knowing this, the reader is left to conclude that the Clinton proposals must have been so ambiguous and unfair that Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, was justified in rejecting them. But that is simply untrue.
One of the most common arguments advanced by those critical of the "generous offer myth" is that the Clinton plan would not have produced a contiguous Palestinian state. Never mind that the main reason cited by Arafat for his rejection of the proposal was the problem of the refugees (he, of course, insisted that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be allowed to move to pre-1967 Israel). And never mind that few of these critics have ever produced evidence in the form of maps demonstrating that the Clinton plan would result in the West Bank's division into "Bantustans." It's also strange that few of these propagandists have considered the fact that a Palestinian state will not be contiguous anyway, since Gaza and the West Bank are separated by a broad swathe of Israel.
Put simply, the Clinton parameters would have produced an independent Palestinian state with 100 percent of Gaza, roughly 97 percent of the West Bank and an elevated train or highway to connect them. Jerusalem’s status would have been guided by the principle that what is currently Jewish will be Israeli and what is currently Arab will be Palestinian, meaning that Jewish Jerusalem — East and West — would be united, while Arab East Jerusalem would become the capital of the Palestinian state.
The Palestinian state would have been “nonmilitarized,” with internal security forces but no army and an international military presence led by the United States to prevent terrorist infiltration and smuggling. Palestinian refugees would have had the right of return to their state, but not to Israel, and a fund of $30 billion would have been created to compensate those refugees who chose not to exercise their right of return to the Palestinian state.
But logic doesn't disturb such useful morons as Miriam Ward, a member of Pax Christi, who declared in a 2002 piece that
In the 1993 Oslo Agreement, by recognizing Israel’s right to exist, Palestinians already gave up 78 percent of their land and accepted the formula “land for peace” within the context of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which calls for the withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories. This meant Palestinians were willing to settle for 22 percent of originally mandated Palestine. To put it bluntly: You take $100 from me and later offer to repay $22. I cut my losses and give up $78. Still later you want more of my remaining $22.By her reasoning, anything the Palestinians concede should be regarded as a favor to Israel, since the land really belongs to the Arabs. Indeed, this is the consensus among the large majority of the post-colonial academic elite in America, and their growing disciples in the world. Using the rhetoric of "indigenous rights," they present Jews as entirely alien to the Land of Israel and to the Middle East.
Monday, January 08, 2007
Former Under Secretary of Defense Dov Zakheim, in an article published in the Financial Times on January 6, argues that the U.S. should reposition its forces on Iraq's borders rather than committing more troops to Baghdad and other cities. The concerns underlying Zakheim's proposal is very much in line with some of those expressed previously on this blog. Zakheim writes that
There is no doubt that Iraq is enmeshed in a bitter civil war. The US has had minimal impact on the course of that war. Iraqi casualties continue to mount, as do the number of Iraqis who have decided to kill their fellow citizens. Americans are caught in the crossfire. They cannot stop the sectarian forces that are determined to kill one another. The US could not do so in Lebanon during the 1980s and cannot do so today in Iraq.He argues for a shift in American priorities. Instead of fighting to achieve stability inside Iraq, the U.S. must focus on preserving stability and American interests in the region. To this end, Zakheim suggests stationing a force of two brigades (a brigade is made up of 3,000-5,000 soldiers) In Iraqi Kurdistan, two further brigades in the far west of al-Anbar on the border with Syria, and a division (10,000-20,000 troops) in the south that will guard the border with Iran.
He also argues that
and that the division-sized force in the south would send a clear signal to Tehran.
The forces in Kurdistan would help forestall a Kurdish declaration of independence that would prompt a Turkish invasion. The troops in western Iraq would help prevent both terrorist infiltration into Jordan and serious incursions from Syria. They would also indicate to Damascus that it should not misinterpret a readiness to talk as a concession.
The New Anatolian has a slightly different interpretation of Zakheim's proposal:
U.S. forces should operate from Iraq's borders to stop the country from launching attacks against its neighbors and preventing any intervention by Turkey in the north in response to a Kurdish declaration of independence, the Financial Times said on Friday.Stationing forces on the border between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey could allow both sides to save face in the case of a Kurdish declaration of independence, by setting limits on Kurdish northward aspirations and Turkish responses. However, I doubt that U.S. President Bush will adopt Zakheim's plan when he declares his new Iraq strategy. The members of this administration appear convinced that anything less than "staying the course" will be disastrous for their long-term political fortunes.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
ADDENDUM: Two men in their mid-twenties from the town of Sangerhausen in Saxony-Anhalt have been indicted for their role in an arson attack on a facility housing applicants for political refugee status. The suspects, who are known neo-Nazis, threw three Molotov cocktails into an apartment in the facility early on Saturday morning. No one was hurt in the attack (SZ).
Last Friday afternoon, an Israeli and a Yemenite student, both in their twenties, were attacked by five men in a Magdeburg streetcar. The assailants pushed the victims and taunted them with racist slurs. One of them pulled a knife and threatened the students. However, the two were able to fend off the attackers, and the tram-driver alerted the police who arrested the five men, aged 35 to 46. They have been charged with sedition [Volksverhetzung, literally "incitement of the people"], uttering threats, and assault (Spiegel).
Magdeburg is a mid-sized city in the former East German Land of Saxony-Anhalt, which currently leads all other German Bundesländer in the number of hate crimes committed by right-wing extremists. In the statistics, Saxony-Anhalt is followed by three other former East German Bundesländer, Brandenburg, Thuringia, and Saxony. However, Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg also reported significant increases in hate crimes. Overall, German police are reporting record numbers of such crimes for the year 2006.
These crimes are often attributed to young people who came of age in the 1990s. There is indeed a strong right-wing extremist youth culture in many towns of the former East Germany, that rose to prominence especially after the fall of the Berlin wall. In this particular case, the attackers came from a slightly older generation, educated entirely in the German Democratic Republic.
I last visited Magdeburg sometime in December 2003, when I had the chance to visit the Jewish community there. It is a rather dreadful city, visibly depressed. Like much of Saxony-Anhalt, it suffers from high unemployment. For some reason or another, its university has attracted a number of Israeli and other foreign students - one of whom I met in the synagogue. A former artillery-man who had served in Lebanon until the withdrawal, he complained bitterly about living conditions in the East. Most of the Jewish community, as elsewhere in Germany, consists of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Few of them have any desire to stay in Magdeburg; I remember a group of high schoolers who were especially enthusiastic about leaving for Canada (rather than the U.S. or Israel).
Volksverhetzung under German criminal law (Paragraph 130) covers incitement to "hatred or violence against certain parts of the population," or attacks on "the human dignity of others through insults, malicious libel, or defamation," (German Ministry of Justice). Paragraphs 130.3 and 130.4 also outlaw Holocaust denial and the use of symbols from the Nazi era. Convictions can lead to imprisonment from 3 months to 5 years and/or a monetary fine.
Friday, January 05, 2007
The Democrats are putting pressure on U.S. President Bush just ahead of his much-anticipated new Iraq strategy. Following rumors that Bush will order a "surge" in U.S. troops, some key Democrats have come out charging. Earlier on CNN today, Senator Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) told Wolf Blitzer that he believed the administration could not admit defeat in Iraq, and that it was hoping to pass the mess on to the next president, who would then be responsible for "rescuing Americans from roof tops" (a reference to the fall of Saigon). Before that, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) sent an open letter to the President, in which they told Bush,
Surging forces is a strategy that you have already tried and that has already failed. Like many current and former military leaders, we believe that trying again would be a serious mistake. They, like us, believe there is no purely military solution in Iraq. There is only a political solution.See our previous post on the idiocy of plans to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. Will Bush bow to the pressure of the Democrats?
Meanwhile, the fallout from yesterday's IDF daytime raid in Ramallah has yet to be evaluated. Mubarak as well as the Palestinians reacted angrily. Russia made a special statement condemning the operation (Ha'aretz). Will this blow over or can we expect to see an escalation in Palestinian actions against Israel?
The JTA has a piece on the Jewish vote in the French presidential race. A number of French Jews interviewed in the article who identified themselves as backers of the Socialists are voting for Nicolas Sarkozy, the Gaullist candidate this time. The conclusion of the reporter's analysis, apparently based on the opinion of one Michael Sebban, a 38-year-old high school philosophy teacher, is that French Jews are not so much voting for Sarkozy as against the Socialist candidate Segolene Royale. The reason cited: her inexperience in foreign policy, especially when it comes to the Middle East.
The article rather uncritically parrots the line that Royale is anti-Israel. As we have reported previously (see bottom), this is simply not true. The JTA article also paints Royal 's Middle East trip as a debacle. That was certainly not the Israeli impression - see Daniel Ben-Simon's feature in Ha'aretz, "Diplomatic neophyte? No way," written in the wake of the Segolene craze that swept through Israel when Royal visited the country.
Of course, the French Socialist party is hardly a great friend of Israel - but neither is Chirac's Union pour un Mouvement Populaire. For the classical UMP line one only has to look at Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie's work during and after the Lebanon war.
One of the top priorities for French Jews, as the JTA article also suggests, is fighting crime and antisemitic attacks, especially in the suburbs that are home to large populations of North African immigrants and their children. Much of France's Jewish population is also North African. In the past, the Jewish and Muslim Algerians, Tunisians, and Moroccans may have cooperated on social issues, but that era has come to an end with the explosion of attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions since 2000. Sarkozy has been unequivocal in his efforts to combat crime and assaults on Jews. This stance, combined with his support for Israel, have endeared him even to those traditionally aligned with the Socialists. French Jews, like American Jews, have traditionally voted for the left. It remains to be seen whether they will continue voting Socialist (just as American Jews have continued voting for the Democrats) or switch over to the Gaullists.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
UPDATE: The full interview is now up (Friday).
In an interview that will appear in the Ha'aretz Magazine on Friday, Stanley Fischer, the governor of the Bank of Israel (equivalent to America's Federal Reserve) confirms what many Israeli families have felt for a long time. Israeli banks are squeezing the little guy to offer better terms to the rich:
"In comparison to the international sphere, the big companies get credit at very good terms," he said. "Someone else pays for that. It's a case of cross-subsidization. The margin in one sector would appear to fund the margin in the second sector and subsidize it."There is a widespread perception in Israeli society that the gap between ordinary people and members of the political and business elites has widened dramatically in the past decades. Many middle and working class families express frustration about the high levels of taxation (financial and social) that they have to endure, while a small class of very wealthy people drives around in American SUVs and sends its children to foreign universities.
The Tax Authority bribery scandal now in the news headlines will likely further strengthen this frustration. It is neither the first nor the last big-time corruption case involving the highest echelons of the state and big business.
People in Israel often complain about how hard it is to find work. In the end, although it is a hated job, many young people turn to "shmira" (guarding).
Security guards are posted everywhere in Israel: at schools, supermarkets, post offices and banks, movie theatres, the gym, shopping malls, and bus station entrances. My belongings are searched every day an average of three or four times, sometimes more. The security guard job is hated because it is usually boring. The guards stands at a designated place for hours and checks bags and purses and may ask a few questions here and there. In the winter, most guards stand outside in the cold until their shift is over. And when the job isn't boring, it's dangerous. A number of security guards were wounded or even killed during the Intifidah while protecting entrances. The relatively low salary (often less than $6 an hour) is hardly worth risking your life for.
And yet, if 2006 is any indication of how 2007 turns out, security guards will remain to be in hot demand. On page 21 in last week's Classified section of the Israel Rail's newspaper, 11 out of the 36 ads were seeking security guards. The criteria are usually simple enough: army service, an updated arms licence, and no criminal record. Many young people in Israel who have just been released from their mandatory army service fit the bill.
The text below calls for a demonstration against "the most dangerous politician of our time."
See I Like Israel for info.
Germany today is one of the few countries in the world in which committed groups of non-Jewish, left-wing activists actively support Israel. In other European countries, the kind of coalition behind the upcoming protest advertised in the poster above would have been impossible. Just imagine an alliance consisting of religious and secular Jewish organizations, leftist anti-fascist student groups, Israeli-German friendship associations, and foundations (run and funded by non-Jews) committed to fighting antisemitism. Only in America would the kind of action organized by "I like Israel" attract a significant amount of support from non-Jews; it would come almost entirely from the right of the political spectrum.
While elsewhere in the world, radical leftism is synonymous with anti-Zionism, a small but significant number of German neo-Marxists and anti-fascists, who maintain a number of impressive print publications, unequivocally define anti-Zionism as a form of antisemitism. Most of these pro-Israel German leftists define themselves as "anti-Deutsch" - that is, opposed to German nationalism. For several decades, they have been fighting what they perceive as the re-appearance of antisemitism and nationalism through the backdoors of leftist anti-imperialism, anti-Americanism, and anti-Zionism. They have also tenaciously opposed the self-serving equations of Nazi atrocities with Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories by some German intellectuals, in the process drawing attention to the convergence of Holocaust deniers, Muslim fundamentalists, and pro-Palestinian groups. Often, these young, highly-educated activists challenge neo-Nazi groups as well as the ubiquitous keffiyeh-clad shock-troops of the anti-globalization, anti-American, anti-Israel left on the streets of Germany's large cities. Unlike leftists in England, France, and Berkeley, California, they do not underestimate the virulent antisemitism sweeping through much of the Muslim world. They see it as the historical responsibility of Germans to oppose the genocidal rhetoric of individuals such as Iranian President Ahmadinejad and organizations such as Hamas.
Living in Berlin several years ago, at the height of the second intifada, I had the opportunity to meet a number of organizers from the ranks of the anti-Deutsche. Most of them emphasized that they are "unfortunately only a small part of the German left." They were often deeply critical and pessimistic about the German discourse on Israel and the Middle East, noting rampant bias against Israel in the media. At the same time, they also expressed fears about the resurgence of neo-Nazi groups in the former East Germany and the resulting increase in attacks on "foreigners." I was therefore pleased to read an article by Assaf Uni, "The good men of Leipzig ," in Ha'aretz a few days ago (thanks for the reference, Ima), which described the relative success of the anti-Deutsche in this city.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
(Photo: Eric Draper, Office of the President)
In an interview with Ari Shavit, Israeli Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni makes clear her ambitions to run for the position of prime minister in the future. She also promotes her independent diplomatic initiative, for which some Knesset members are hoping to have her fired.
On the peace process with the Palestinians:
I think that I can conduct talks with Abbas that will clarify what they want to achieve in the two-state vision. On the one hand, I want to anchor my interests on the security issue, demilitarization and the refugee problem, and on the other I want to create a genuine alternative for the Palestinians that includes a solution to their national problem. If we achieve such an alternative, the moderate Palestinians will have to receive a mandate to implement it. At a certain point, it will also be necessary to bring in moderate Arab countries to support the plan. It may also be possible to formulate some of the basic principles of the final status agreement, even if it's impossible to reach such an agreement now.On last summer's Lebanon war and its aftermath:
Yes. During those days, the thinking was too militaristic. But I think that today, in the wake of the war, there's a better understanding that the strategy cannot be only military. They understand that in the army too. At the beginning of the war, some people thought that the diplomatic role was to provide the army with time. That's understandable: In the past we always achieved, we conquered, we released, we won, and then the world came and took away from us. The victory was military and the failure political. But this time it was the opposite.
Monday, January 01, 2007
in July 2005 (Source: Dept. of State)
Michael Totten recently published an excellent piece examining the tactical alliance between Michel 'Aoun and Hizbullah in Lebanon. It is definitely worth reading to understand some of the socio-economic frustrations that account for the attraction felt by a segment of the Lebanese Maronite Christian population - and other Lebanese - to this populist leader.
Totten's piece reminds us not to fall into the trap of reducing Lebanese politics to a conflict between Iranian and Syrian-backed Hizbullah, on one side, and the western-leaning Seniora government on the other. There are other elements in the opposition that do not share most or any of Hizbullah's values, especially not the foreign policy of the movement.
In his latest post, Totten reconstructs a meeting with two 'Aoun supporters at a coffee house, which reveals that his supporters are not simply blindly following a charismatic leader. Totten's Christian informants in fact identify corruption and monopolistic tendencies in Lebanon - which they associate with the Hariri family - as being at the root of their support of 'Aoun and his Free Patriotic Movement (al-Tayyār al-Watani al-Hurr).
Throughout the conversation with his Lebanese interlocutors, Jack and Antonios, Totten confronts them with his critical views of 'Aouns political manoeuvres and challenges them to explain an alliance that seems destined to fail to the detriment of the former Maronite militia leader. Notwithstanding their tendency to think in more conspiratorial terms (something that is understandable in Lebanon, as Totten explains), the pair reveal themselves to be quite level-headed. Their only flaw - and it is a big one - seems to be that they have wholeheartedly accepted the notion that the alliance with Nasrallah can be treated as a means to an end: to secure enough votes from Lebanese Shi'a to allow 'Aoun to become elected as Lebanese president and to give the Free Patriotic Movement a greater voice in the Lebanese cabinet. In other words, they think that Hizbullah can be restrained once it is given even more power in cabinet and parliament.
I have no idea how many non-Shi'i Lebanese back the Free Patriotic Movement at this stage. The FPM's website has a detailed break-down of a poll it conducted recently and claims that 66.2% of poll respondents (of all confessions) said they would back an FPM candidate for the Presidential Office reserved to Maronites according to the Lebanese constitution. The website also asserts that 69.7% of those polled said they would back the FPM "and its allies" (i.e. Hizbullah). I might take a closer look at the poll in a future post.