Is There a Word in Hebrew for Treason?

September 5, 2010

Ahmed Tibi is an Arab and the Deputy Speaker of Israel’s Parliament, The Knesset.    As such, he  enjoys a immunity from prosecution for incitement and for making statements which could be interpreted as endangering his country’s security.  Indeed, over the past three years several members of  Tibi’s own party – Balad (the National Democratic Assembly)  – survived the prospect of indictment after making unauthorized trips to enemy states.  Tibi remains as one of the most visible activists advocating the dismantlement of the Jewish State and its replacement with a unitary bi-national state of Arabs and Jews.

In January , 2009, the Knesset Central Election Committee, comprising members of all Knesset factions, voted to disqualify Tibi’s party, Balad,   and the United Arab List-Ta’al — from running in the February 10 elections.  Lawmakers accused the two Arab parties of supporting armed struggle against Israel and seeking to undermine the state’s Jewish and democratic character. They based their measure on a 2002 amendment to the quasi-constitutional Basic Law, which permitted the banning of a Knesset faction if its goals or actions support the “armed struggle” of a terrorist organization or foreign country either implicitly or explicitly.

Suspicion about Tibi’s ties to the country’s adversaries arose  when he registered at the Doha Forum on Democracy, Developent and Free Trade, in Qatar, as leader of the Palestinian delegation. “Israel is an apartheid state,” he said to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni during a session in which she was speaking from the podium. The episode prompted Deputy Foreign Minister Majalli Whbee, a Druze member of Kadima, to say it was “time for Ahmed Tibi to decide which country he represents.”

Resentment has been even stronger toward Balad, which has three Knesset members. Anger is focused mostly on party founder Azmi Bishara, who was investigated by police in 2007 for allegedly assisting Hezbollah in the Second Lebanon War. Between interrogations he left for a meeting in Jordan and has not returned, reportedly because he fears an unfair trial and long imprisonment. He resigned from the chamber in 2007, in a letter submitted to the Israeli embassy in Cairo. He remains head of Balad, reputedly living mainly in Jordan, and communicates with party leaders by phone. He still receives a Knesset pension of around $2,000 a month. A move in the Knesset to stop payments was blocked by the Supreme Court. On January 21, 2009 the Supreme Court of Israel overturned the Committee’s decision by a majority of eight to one.

Tibi continues to remain unfazed by the threat of prosecution.  In fact, he regularly uses the Deputy Speaker’s platform to proudly assert his support for Palestinian nationalism at every opportunity.

He did so again on Friday in the Los Angeles Times.  There he stated that he has no faith in the leader of his own government as a sincere negotiator for peace and condemned Benjamin Netanyahu for his procrastination and indifference to Palestinian suffering.   These were not the words of a Israeli parliamentarian but of an adversary.

“I am not alone in being pessimistic. Most Palestinians are. Young people in particular have been betrayed. A whole generation of Palestinians has grown up watching as talks failed. They have seen deepening colonization rather than freedom.”

Tibi, of course, fails to mention that the ” betrayal” in this instance, came from the Palestinian leaders themselves.  Offered most of their demands at Camp David in  July, 2000, Yasser Arafat launched an armed insurrection that resulted in 1,000 Israeli deaths and nearly 3,500 Palestinian.  The ” Intifada” gained Palestinians nothing and drove whatever was left of the peace process into the ground.

One has to wonder whether any other Arab country would tolerate such words spoken publicly by the Deputy Speaker of its Parliament.  It is a supreme irony that Tibi’s freedom to present such views in the Western press would never be allowed in any of the other countries who are party to the talks, least of all in Mahmoud Abbas’ West Bank where dissent is ruthlessly repressed.

Treason is not a popular word in the English vocabulary.  Very few Western countries have mounted successful cases in the post -war years against citizens who have espoused views or taken actions which have given comfort and aid to the enemy.

But there are countries where  the word ” treason”  really should have some meaning.   Perhaps the Hebrew word for traitor – “Bogged” might begin to take on some of this meaning when the Israeli Supreme Court finally gains the courage to  firmly states that it is illegal for  the country’s own parliamentarians to represent another constituency altogether, while presiding as a peoples’  representative .

Middle East Peace Requires A Warmer Nest

September 5, 2010

There is an old Yiddish proverb ” Beware of still water, a still dog and a still enemy”.  That is an adage Benjamin Netanyahu’s peace delegation might take to heart as it prepares for peace talks in Washington this Thursday.   For months the Palestinian Authority has been claiming that it has finally exerted control over its extremist elements, making it a fit partner for a peace talks and respectable to enough be taken seriously by the international community.

But that claim was put to the lie last night as an Israeli family of four was gunned down in cold blood on the outskirts of Hebron.   The murder, by the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade, should make everyone understand that seeming Palestinian quietude is often a mask for the execution of the next terrorist strike.

On the surface, these times may indeed seem propitious for final negotiations. The Palestinian economy is booming, Israelis are desperate to find a passage out of  their current diplomatic isolation and the Obama Administration seems fully engaged, eager to end a nettlesome problem which stands in the way of a broader compact with the Arab world.

But lets get real.  The Palestinian delegation arriving in Washington this week is nothing more than a rump party, representing barely a third of Palestinian population and less than a quarter of domestic opinion ( which remains avowedly opposed to the recognition of Israel) ;  Its leadership has not foresworn the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees to Israel proper ( a deal killer for any Israeli government – of  either right or  left) and Palestinian school books still preach the value and benefit of murdering Jews.

Not exactly the ideal nest for hatching a peace egg, now is it? .

Beyond even this uncomfortable reality is the specter of  of the 800 pound gorilla that everyone conveniently ignores.    Hamas is not party to these talks, nor does it wish to be.  It is doing just fine, thank you very much, garnering global sympathy as a victim of Israeli intransigence while gleefully opening its Get Well mail sent by the world following the Flotilla incident of late May.  Yet Hamas represents nearly one and a half million Palestinians and is still, by all accounts, very much in control of its tiny territory.  Its willingness to defy the local superpower has transformed its image among ordinary Palestinians ( not to mention the broader Arab world)  from one of spoiler to that of gladiator.  The Palestinians in the West Bank have little to offer as comparable symbols of Muslim manhood.

The failure to recognize that the Palestinian people as irredeemably splintered and wracked by internecine feuds and tribal hatreds – and that is has never had any real incentive to make progress in peace negotiations, has bedeviled almost all peace negotiations since 1991 and will doom these ones as well.  No one seems to remember today that the vast majority of Palestinians killed in the first Intifada ( 1987-91) perished at the hand of other Palestinians.   Or that hundreds of Palestinians died during Yasser Arafat’s reign in the West Bank, merely for supporting the notion of peace with Israel.  Mahmoud Abbas, a weak leader whose chief ability appears to be his skill in evading assassination, has none of the charisma or confidence of Yasser Arafat ( nor consummate skill at duping Western leaders) and for years has appeared more than content to sit on his hands and do nothing.

For good reason.  A peace agreement does not serve his nor, to his mind at least, Palestinian interests.  The Palestinian leadership gains nothing from statehood ( and the implicit expectation that it recognize its neighbor’s right to exist), except death warrants from groups such as the Qassam Brigade and the possible loss of the nepotistic monopolies that they control in their territories.  The Palestinian people are  also doing fine as inveterate wards of the West, the recipients of more aid per capita than any other people on Earth.

Given this reality there is another Yiddish proverb the Netanyahu folks might wish to recall:  “If things are not as you wish, then wish them as they are”.   This an apt second guide for all the parties to the peace negotiations.  Taken seriously, it may just awaken the peace dreamers to the reality that the Palestinians might actually fight ( as Arafat once did) to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state.   The result could be a renewed Intifada far more desperate and catastrophic than any that has come before it.

Should Israel Apologize To Turkey?

July 21, 2010

The Turks don’t seem to be losing any momentum in their international campaign to demonize Israel.

Not content with having withdrawn their ambassador to the country and using every international forum available to raise the specter of the Jewish  ” state terrorism” , Turkey is now demanding an apology for the deaths aboard the Mavi Marmara on the morning May 30 when the Turkish registered boat sought to breach the Gaza blockade.

Now the Turks, having acknowledged that the Government of Israel recognizes that ” mistakes” were made in the attempt to interdict the passage of the ship, have made it clear that they will accept nothing short of a full apology for the eleven deaths which resulted from the confrontation.

Such an apology would be nothing  short of a diplomatic catastrophe for the Jewish state.  To acknowledge that the nation was somehow at fault for this commission of political theater, would be to essentially acknowledge guilt – yet there can be no question of Israel’s liability for the violence which broke out that morning , which was pre-planned and pre-meditated and designed to achieve exactly its result.    Israel would gain nothing but further opprobrium and it would make the likelihood of future passage of such violations of Israeli sovereignty even more certain.

The Turks know something about how to manage international campaigns of this order.  For 95 years , successive Turkish governments have denied the role of  the state in facilitating the deaths of close to one million Armenian Turkish citizens during the First World War.   No Turkish leader has been prepared to acknowledge this enormous crime against humanity and  for a very good reason.  To do so would open the country to compensatory claims and property right legal suits that could stretch on for generations.  Not only that, but the history of modern Turkey would  inevitably be colored by the  dark hues of racism and bigotry, almost impossible to erase from memory and reputation, as many Germans can today attest.

The difference between Turkey and Israel in these two instances is that Israel did not kill a million people in a pre-planned genocidal campaign and has not sought to deny the truth behind the incidents which occurred in May, 2010 – releasing video footage which shows clearly that the Navy Seals who boarded the boat,  were first brutally attacked  and fired their guns only to defend their lives.  The Turks, on the other hand, will not open their archives to reveal the truth about the events of 1915 –  which could not have been conducted in self defense – and insist in applying tremendous pressure on Western governments to resist Armenian pressure to declare those events a genocide.

Perhaps Israel then would be better off  not seeking to mollify the anti-Israel government of Turkey but in reversing its long held policy of not pushing for world wide recognition of the Armenian genocide.  Perhaps then, in the diplomatic shell game the Turks are now playing, they will begin to learn that they have exposure on an issue far more internationally damaging any ” crime ” the Israelis have ever committed.

Michael Lerner’s Night of Broken Glass

May 9, 2010

Pity Michael Lerner.  The oft quoted far left rabbi from Berkeley, the famous avatar of the Clintonian Politics of Meaning, has been the victim lately of a vicious blow-back against his political positions – most particularly his embrace of South African jurist Richard Goldstone as well as  his support for the U.S. imposition of a peace treaty upon Israel.

It has gotten so bad for the outspoken rabbi that vandals last week , according to a press release issued by Lerner’s organization, affixed  posters to his door, attacking the man personally, and pillioring liberals and progressives as being supporters of terrorism and “Islamo-fascism.” They glued to his door a printed bumper sticker which sported the logo “fight terror–support Israel” next to a caricature of Judge Richard Goldstone, whose UN report on Israel’s human rights violations in its attack on Gaza last year has been denounced as anti-Semitic and pro-terror.

Lerner’s supporters around the world have declared the house’s defacement an act of fascist vandalism and evidence of a brooding hatred in the Jewish world.  In particular, they have fingered the prolific pen of Alan Desrhsowitz, who in an opinion piece on April 28 in the Jerusalem Post called both Lerner and  Goldstone to task for their anti-Israel stances.

Labeling Goldstone’s rabbinic supporters  as ” Rabbis for Hamas”,  Dershowitz explained:

“Not surprisingly, the worst of these rabbis (and that’s saying a lot), Michael Lerner, has decided to honor Richard Goldstone with Tikkun Magazine‘s “Ethics Award.” I guess all it takes to be honored by Tikkun is to pass Lerner’s litmus test of lying about Israel. That’s Lerner’s definition of “ethics.” There are some good people on the advisory board of Tikkun Magazine. They now have an obligation to reconsider their membership unless they wish to be associated with a rabbi who is prepared to accuse Israel, in the absence of any evidence, of deliberately setting out to murder Palestinian civilians without any military purpose.  “

Lerner supporters, in reflecting on the vandalism and provocations of Dershowitz and others, have also invoked the imagery of  Night of Broken  Glass in Germany – or Kristallnacht as it is more familiarly known (November 9, 1938), when thousands of  Jewish shop windows , synagogues and homes were destroyed in state sanctioned violence after a Jewish student shot to death a German diplomat in Paris.

Such a comparison, is, of course, absurd.  Neither Dershowitz nor any other of the Lerner/ Goldstone critics are calling for the death of either man nor for the looting and sacking of their homes and injuring others.  But the far left’s  accusation is couched in language that they  – and Michael Lerner and Richard Goldstone in particular –  understand very  well.

In the early 1970s,  Lerner  created an organization called the Seattle Liberation Front (SLF), which participated in numerous anti-war protests and at least one riot.   During this period , SLF, the Black Student Union (BSU), and the violent terrorist group Weathermen (led by such luminaries as Bill Ayres  and Bernadine Dohrn) collaborated to carry out a number of direct actions on university campuses. One day, SLF and BSU members — bearing pipes and clubs while shouting “Power to the people!” and “Smash the state!” – rampaged through several university buildings and, in some cases, roughed up innocent onlookers. Washington state attorney Slade Gorton, who later went on to become a U.S. Senator, described the tactics of Lerner’s SLF as “totally indistinguishable from fascism and Nazism.”

SLF’s most famous action was a February 17, 1970 demonstration at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Seattle, which escalated into a riot in which twenty individuals were injured.   Lerner himself was one of the so-called “Seattle Seven,” charged in a federal trial with “conspiracy to incite a riot.” He spent several months in prison before the main charges against him eventually were dropped and he was released.

Richard Goldstone, on the other hand, has had his own flirtation with fascist undertakings.  In the 1980s and 90s, before the collapse of Apartheid, Goldstone took an active part in the racist policies of the South African regime.   During his tenure as sitting judge in the appellate court, he  sentenced dozens of blacks mercilessly to their deaths. The Richard Goldstone of that day and age was a great enthusiast for capital punishment, torture and miscegenationist policies.   He imposed and affirmed death sentences for more than two dozen blacks under circumstances where whites would almost certainly have been dealt with more leniently.  He gave sentences of physical torture–euphemistically called “flogging”– for other blacks. He also facilitated miscegenation and other racist laws with no recorded word of criticism nor dissent.   He therefore fulfilled an  important role in the state apparatus that enforced racial subjugation in his own country.

Even today Goldstone expresses few regrets.  ” It was the law of the land,”  he says, without seeming to understand in the slightest that statement’s  irony.  After all, antisemitism was the law of land on the night of November 9, 1938, as well.

Fascistic outbursts, as Jonah Goldberg has brilliantly illustrated in his book Liberal Fascism, is not only a phenomenon of the right.  Lerner, Goldberg and their supporters would therefore do well to investigate their own fascistic legacy before choosing to slap that label on to anyone else.

Jordan Plays Hard Ball With Soft Shoes

April 7, 2010

An interview  in the Wall Steet Journal of April 6 with Jordan’s  King Abdullah II, revealed him flexing his muscles and decrying Israeli intransigence over the breakdown of the peace process.

It was a nice little piece of political theater.  He of course knows much better.

The King is well aware of the nature of the Palestinian leadership and its abject failures over the course of 50 years to secure any substantial benefits for its people.  He knows that the true reason there has been no progress in the peace process is not because of Israeli intransigence, but because of a  Palestinian reversion to terrorism.

After all, nearly 70% of his own population is of Palestinian extraction and his own kingship is what we would call in the West, a minority government.

He is also aware that his grandfather, the first Abdullah, was assassinated by a Palestinian nationalist and that attempts on his father’s life occurred so frequently that bullet proof glass was needed to be installed in every bathroom in the King’s residences.

In other words,  this King is on shaky ground and he knows it.   He also knows that one of the things that vouchsafes his regime is the presence , not of his dear friends among the surrounding Arab countries (who would pick Jordan clean should the Hashemites fall) but the support and proximity of the Israeli army.  Israel will not let the Hashemite kingdom collapse.

Yet in true Arab fashion, the King chose to unload his venom in this interview on Israel, accusing it of deliberately delaying any movement toward peace.

There are several other glaring inaccuracies in his interview:

“The extremists around are saying, hey look, nothing is happening, dialogue does not work, communicating with the Israelis is not the way to go forward, the idea of resistance, the spread of fear and hatred is the message they put forward, is the way to go….”

Extremist elements in Gaza and the territories are opposed to Israel’ s very existence and the thought of an accommodation is anathema to them.   For Hamas and the PA’s own al Aqsa Maryr’s Brigades,  nothing could spur greater violence than  the idea of a final settlement. Last year Fatah re-endorsed the notion of armed struggle against the Jewish state.

“If there are those that are saying that Iran is playing mischief, then I say it is being allowed to play mischief. The platform they use is the injustice of the Palestinians and Jerusalem…..”

No, they don’t .  Iran’s problem, like Hamas’, Hezbollah’s and other Palestinian groups, is with Israel’s existence.  If they use the ” injustices” meted out to the Palestinians  as a means of discussing their grievances, then it is only as a pretext.  Once again Abdullah knows this, but like the rest of the leadership in the Arab world,  finds falling back on reliable old complaints a more comfortable political posture.

“I  think the long-term future of Israel is in jeopardy unless we solve our problems. Fifty-seven countries in the world, a third of the United Nations, do not recognize Israel. In a way, I think North Korea has better international relations than Israel. So when you look at the Arab-Islamic peace proposal what you are talking about is 57 nations reaching out to Israel for a long-term future.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. There  are not ” 57 countries”  who don’t recognize  Israel.  There are 30 – and they  are all either Muslim or Communist in nature.  There is absolutely no evidence that should Israel  remove its settlements entirely from the West Bank and retreat from East Jerusalem that there would suddenly be an outpouring of love from these same countries.  In fact, quite the reverse is likely to occur.  The Israeli  willingness to give up territory has always been regarded by the Arab world as a sign of weakness and an incentive for further attacks and demonization.  Hence the escalation of rocket attacks on Israel’s southern border in the wake of the removal of its settlements and  military presence in Gaza.

And unfortunately, for the first time since my father made peace with Israel, our relationship with Israel is at an all bottom low. It hasn’t been as bad as it is today and as tense as it is today.”

If that is true, it is not because of anything Israel has or has not done.   Because the reality is that Jordan has always feathered its nest by propitiating its stronger Arab neighbors, while continuing to maintain secret discussions with the Jewish state.  Abdullah’s father Hussein was a master at this kind of balancing act.  It served him well and facilitated his survival for nearly 50 years on Jordan’s throne.   We are yet  to see whether his  son has that same kind of aptitude.

Whatever King Abdullah II of Jordan really believes, we are unlikely to see any of it appear in print, particularly in a Wall Street Journal interview.  The realities of Arab diplomacy in the Middle East are rarely played out in the press and attitudes that are stated so forthrightly and adamantly in public can actually be very different from the ones expressed behind the closed doors.

With any fall out from an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel almost certain to have devastating consequences for neighboring Jordan, you can bet  that Abdullah and other moderate Arab leaders like him, will continue to find every conceivable excuse to blame Israel while at the same time scurrying for cover behind Israel’s deterrent nuclear shield.

Bombers For Settlements

March 25, 2010

I can’t say I disagree with the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens all  too often.  His is the first piece of writing I turn to every Tuesday morning, so certain am I that I will be greeted by a succinct, well argued editorial, wrapped in elegant, wry prose.

But his last two pieces for the print version of the Journal have angered me, not for the  thrust of his arguments, but for some ancillary matters that he allowed to slip into the writing which betrayed a bias out of keeping with his generally level headed approach.

On Tuesday, March 16,  his piece  Settlements Aren’t the Problem, he let fly this doozy of a paragraph:

“It’s easy to dislike Israel’s settlements, and still easier to dislike many of the settlers. Whatever your view about the legality or justice of the enterprise, it takes a certain cast of mind to move your children to places where they are more likely to be in harm’s way. In the current issue of The American Interest, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer persuasively spells out the many ways in which the settlement movement has undermined Israel’s own rule of law, and hence its democracy. And as last week’s diplomatic eruption over the prospective construction of 1,600 housing units in municipal Jerusalem shows, the settlements are a constant irritant to the United States, one friend Israel can’t afford to lose.”

Mr. Stephens falls into dangerous tropes when he stereotypes the settlers as generally ” unlikeable” or that they have manifested a profound irresponsibility by moving their children” into harm’s way.”  The settlement movement in Judea and Samaria boasts the highest percentage of soldiers serving in elite units in the country; its communities regularly win awards for good government and efficiency; cooperation with local Arab communities, never reported by the mainstream media, remains vigorous and is essential to the health and welfare of the overall Arab population.  And Ariel University, in the center of the territories, is now regarded as one of the primary tertiary institutions in the nation, serving Arab, Jew and Bedouin alike with unparalleled educational opportunities.

More than this, statistics reveal that the territories are no less safe than any other part of Israel, with those who live in the settlements suffering about the same percentage of attacks over the past 17 years (since the Oslo Accords), as any other portion of Israel’s population.

Mr. Stephens compounded his offense when he made a nonsensical argument on March 24, concluding his otherwise fine piece, The Netanyahu Diaries, with the following feigned address from the Israeli prime minister to the U.S. president :

“Let’s make a deal, Mr. President: Our settlements for your bombers. We can’t fully destroy Iran’s nuclear sites—but you can. You can’t dismantle our settlements—but we can. We’ll all come out the better for it, including the Palestinians. Think about it, Barack.”

The idea that Israel would move hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, splitting Israeli society in two and abandoning territory that Netanyahu has not only regarded as part of  the Jewish inheritance, but, according to his own work, A Place Among the Nations, as vital to Israel’s security, for  a military attack conducted by another nation, seems extraordinarily far-fetched.  Israel has never out- sourced its security to another nation and likelihood of doing it in the case of Iran is remote.    Add to this the uncertainty of a successful U.S. bombing raid (or any military action) against Iranian nuclear facilities and you clearly have a reflection,  not of Netanyahu’s or his government’s positions on the matter, but rather those of the writer himself.

We should not  forget that Mr. Stephens was the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post for two years, so it is not as if he is ignorant about the Middle East conflict or unaware of its bedeviling contradictions.    But the flippant dismissal of a group, their ancestral associations or valid  strategic arguments  for retaining vital territory, belongs not to a writer of  Stephens’ renown, but to the smug, self -aggrandizing style of the New York Times’  Thomas Friedman.

Jimmy Carter, another ‘expert’ on the Middle East spent years vilifying the settlers without ever visiting a settlement, rarely ever meeting a settler.  That changed in June, 2009 when he accepted an invitation to enter the Gush Etzion settlement of Neve Daniel.  What he saw there, by his own admission, changed his mind – at least about the future of the settlement in question.

I am sure Mr. Stephens has met settlers and has visited settlements.  What I am not so sure about is his willingness to shrug off prejudices that do a disservice to his journalism, to  balance and fairness – and to the cause of peace itself.

Petraeus of Arabia

March 19, 2010

 Could there be anything more discomfiting for Israelis and their supporters around the world than the recent breach in relations between the State of Israel and the United States?

 Well, yes.

 A report on March 17 revealed  that in mid- January, a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Gen. David Petraeus  had sent them to amplify his growing concerns at the lack of progress in bringing the Arab- Israeli conflict to an end.   It reflected  a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises and that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region.  

A shiver has since then crept up the U.S. governmental spine that a failed peace process between Israel and the Palestinians would couple Israeli intransigence with American weakness – resulting in an ebb in Arab support for American efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the increasing vulnerability of American servicemen to  attack.

The report, if true, should be of far deeper concern to Israel’s supporters than a temporary spat over housing units in Jerusalem.  For if the U.S. military, which has traditionally seen the State of Israel as an important hedge against the rise of Islamic militancy in the Middle East,  now sees the nation as a liability, we may be in for a fundamental realignment of American foreign policy.

But questions remain.  Who, for instance, has David Petraeus been talking to?  Not by chance  to Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak –  the leader of a country that, despite a 30-year-old peace treaty with the Jewish state, is one of the world’s most vicious Israel bashers at world forums and a lodestar of antisemitism in a part of the world that has no dearth of Jew hatred?   

No?  Then what about  King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, that avid seeker of peace, who, as monarch of his desert sheikdom, has presided over a cottage industry of Israel demonization while doing nothing, despite his country’s bubbling oil wealth, to enhance Palestinian welfare. 

Or maybe he has been taking tea with our friends in Dubai, who have expended millions on tracking the hit squad that targeted Hamas king pin Mahmoud al-Mabhouh but who seem oddly disinterested in the cloaca of muddied terrorist money that funnels unfiltered through its financial institutions.  

Perhaps it is that Petraeus has been given to reading a great deal lately from the communiqués of the British Foreign Office of the late 1930s and the U.S. State Department in the 1940s.  Back then the argument made by both was that neither Britain nor the United States could afford to support the establishment of a nascent Jewish state since it would inevitably turn the Arab world against the West.  

History proved them wrong.  British coddling of the Arabs proved distastrous as the sheikdoms tilted towards the Axis Powers during the Second World War and imperilled British access to oil as well as the approaches to India.   After the war, the oil rich sheikdoms discovered in the West hungry, open markets for their subterranean product.  The Arab-Israeli dispute was only a shadowy after-thought and did not get in the way of the growth of their oil business nor their relations with the West.   It was, oddly enough, not Western support for Israel that would ultimately turn the sheikdoms against the West, but the pressures of the Cold War and then the well financed rise of Islamic fundamentalism. 

You do have to wonder then whether Gen. Petraeus, like so many other Western diplomats,  is responding to facts on the ground, divorced from their historical context.   Does he appreciate that “the  process” he complains about did not begin a few months ago but has been on-going for 17 years?  Does he realize that Israeli concessions were not greeted with tears of joy by the Palestinian leaders but with the murder of Israeli citizens?   Or that the Palestinians have repeatedly violated their agreements and have, time and again over the past 70 years, refused generous territorial offers put to them by the Brits, the United Nations, the United States and Israel itself?

Does he appreciate that the Israelis have buried their dead as the world continued to rhaphsodize about Palestinian territorial rights?   

Perhaps he is unaware of any this because history has, at least until now, been an insignificant element in modern diplomacy in the Middle East, with each round of negotiations mandating a virtual reset of relations, as if the past was a blank slate and not inked with shattered Palestinian promises or dripping with Jewish blood.

But if Gen. Petraeus does not appreciate history, how does he feel about the present?  

Does he comprehend Israel’s military capability, the reach of its intelligence network, the strength of its civilian morale and the determination of its leaders to deter another Holocaust?    Does he understand the strategic importance of marshalling these resources in the inevitable confrontation between the Iranian mullahs and the West? Can he or our political leadership in Washington shrug off their prejudices and expectations long enough to recognize that the Palestinian pantomime is a mere sideshow to the true menace rising out of the sands of the Middle East?

In the end, military leaders such as Gen. David Petraeus, schooled as they are in the practical realities of the world, should not allow themselves to be distracted by the importunings of a gang of self- interested autocrats who have shed as many tears  for the welfare of their Palestinian brethren as Adolf Hitler once wept for the Sudeten Germans.   He should be aware that no matter what Arab leaders explain to him about their tribal alleigences, their assurances have regularly proven hollow, their willingness to make genuine sacrifices for American security negligible and their commitment to peace a fraud, offered as a sly purchase for American aid and protection.

Is it any wonder then that when Israelis hear American generals talk excitedly about the slow pace of  negotiations and its threats to the lives of American soldiers, they can only hang their heads in exasperation?

The President’s Middle East Playbook

March 17, 2010

Barack Obama has achieved the impossible. He has managed to bring together secular Israelis and ultra-Orthodox Jews in a heated campaign against him.  His administration’s determination to use an Israeli housing construction project in Northern Jerusalem as the pretext for a diplomatic crisis, has set him on a collision course not just with Israelis of all stripes but even with American Jews who are growing increasingly apprehensive of just where this President intends to lead them.  

Did he anticipate this?  No one can know for sure.   But his determination to face down Benjamin Netanyahu and force him to cancel the permit for 1600 units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood of Jerusalem has already backfired.   Coming right at the opening of the AIPAC conference in Washington D.C. this weekend, he is about to become the first post- war Democratic President whose name may be greeted with derision by a convocation of Jews. 

Almost anyone who lives in Jerusalem knows that the area in dispute, Ramat Shlomo, is a Jewish neighborhood and has been so for thirty years.  It is surrounded by other Jewish neighborhoods and no Israeli in their right mind would consider surrendering it in any final peace deal with the Palestinians. Giving up Ramat Shlomo would be the equivalent of giving up the world famous Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, the tony Jerusalem suburb of French Hill and even the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.  All three are just  as integrated into the Jewish identity of Jerusalem as Ramat Shlomo.  Only by accepting the Palestinian narrative – that all of Jerusalem belongs to the Palestinians, could anyone possibly envision  the suburb as future Palestinian territory. 

The punditocracy is awestruck by the apparent petulance of it all.  What, they are all asking, did he hope to gain? Was the intention to dress down Netanyahu and bring him into line?  Well, the Israeli prime minister is defiant and there is no sign whatsoever he will accede to the administration’s demands that he cancel the permit. This stance has rallied much of the country behind him.  Rather than weakening the Israeli leader, as Obama might have hoped, he has only added to his political capital.   

The Palestinians watch in delight as they wait for the Americans to deliver Israeli concessions without having to do anything but chew on their falafel.  They win either way.  If the peace process continues to stall they can continue to wait, which is their modus operandi anyway.  If Obama finally gets Netanyahu to say uncle, they will be dealing with a castrated Israeli leader viewed as unable to control his own foreign policy. 

The Arab League, those irredentist potentates, are no doubt rolling around on their palace beds in glee.  They had made clear to Obama that there could be no further progress in Middle East peace without resolving the grievous wound to Arab pride caused by the Arab-Israeli dispute.  Ramat Shlomo has become their poster child for Israeli transgression and so now they are winning too, convincing an American president to do their bidding.   

And what is one to say about the claims by Obama lieutenants such as Joe Biden, Hilary Clinton and David Axelrod, that events in northern Jerusalem put American lives elsewhere at risk?   Are we really to believe that  al Qaeda in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan have for years awaited developments in Ramat Shlomo with tense anticipation – so much so that if the crisis is not resolved soon in the Arab favor, there is certain to be an explosion?   

Nothing could be further from the truth.  There is absolutely no connection between the construction of apartment units in Ramat Shlomo (still two years distant) and the intent of Islamic martyrs to kill American soldiers thousands of miles away.  The same number of American servicemen will be targeted and killed in the Middle East no matter what happens in northern Jerusalem.

So what  playbook is Barack Obama and his administration reading from in breathing life into a crisis that should never have been?  It is, I believe, simply this: Obama sees the world in terms of a rather protean struggle between the weak and the strong, the poor and the rich.  The weak in his eyes are almost always innocent purveyors of righteousness and while the powerful personify greed and oppression.  The same world view permeates his domestic policies and can be read between the lines of his push for health care reform, his castigation of rich bankers, his penchant for apologizing for American actions abroad and his willingness to risk U.S security for the benefit of the human rights of enemy combatants.   

The Palestinians have won his sympathy in spite of their proclivity for deception and their gift of the suicide bomber to the world.  In his first year in office, the President has rarely leveled any criticism at Palestinian temporization and yet demonstrated increasing impatience for the fat cat Israelis in Jerusalem and even more for their supporters in Washington.  After all, they represent the kind of world for which he has contempt.   

Even reserving to himself these feelings, Obama could have spared both countries this latest crisis. There are plenty of ways of applying pressure to an ally without having them feel undermined.   But that would have required certain skills of statecraft that this president has yet to develop.   Instead, this administration has fanned into a life a blaze it will spend many months trying to extinguish and in the process revealed a political immaturity and flailing inexperience that should worry Barack Obama’s even most ardent supporters.

The Palestinian Graveyard Spin

March 1, 2010

Palestinian outrage over Israel’s  declaration of  the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb as national shrines, has the aura of true political farce about it.  Oh yes, Palestinian national identity has been wounded; the concept of national co-existence has been assaulted and the very basis of common diplomatic civility has been upended.   Saeeb Erekat, that master of Palestinian spin, has stated: “The unilateral decision to make Palestinian sites in Hebron and Bethlehem part of Israel shows there is no genuine partner for peace, but an occupying power intent on consolidating Palestinian land. ”   Not to be outdone,  Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas  has engaged in his own form of sabre rattling, threatening war over the move.

Well, par for the course.  Israeli diplomat Abba Eban famously stated that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.  But I believe just the opposite.  Palestinians regularly seize opportunities to pound out public relations victories for themselves, all in the interests of establishing credibility for illegitimate claims and validating absurd revisionist history. 

So maybe a history lesson is in order.   The Cave of the Patrarchs and Rachel’s Tomb are the ancestral burial grounds of  the Jewish people’s forefathers,  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their wives.  They have been the site of constant reverence since Biblical rimes and are the second holiest sites in Judaism outside of the Temple Mount.  Jews have maintained a constant presence in Hebron for at least 3,000 years, save for a 37 year interregnum in which the British Mandatory power forcibly moved the entire Jewish community of the city to Jerusalem.  This occured after 69 Jews were slaughtered, raped and despoiled in the most vicious antisemitic Arab attack in modern Middle East history.

After the 1967 Six Day War, Jews began to return to Hebron to rebuild the abandoned Jewish quarter there and to construct the Jewish suburb of Kiryat Arba, situated a quarter of a mile distant.   Jewish control of Hebron and stewardship of the Caves has meant equal access to all religions with as much respect lent to Muslim practices and rights of access as Jewish.  Indeed, if one travels to Hebron today, he  might be mistaken for thinking the shrine there not Jewish but Muslim, so prevalent are Arabic signs and Muslim devotional emblems.

This is all, of course, in marked contrast to Palestinian control of exclusively Jewish religious sites.  In 2001, during the outbreak of the Second Intifada, Joseph’s Tomb, situated in Nablus ( Shechem)  and the site of a prominent yeshiva, was sacked and looted by Palestinian militia.  Torah scrolls were desecrated, holy books were used as toilet paer and the entire place was torched.  An Israeli soldier bled to death defending the tomb as the Palestinian crowed “Death to the Jews!”

The Jordanians did not disport themselves any better.  After the capture of the Jewish Quarter of Jeruslaem’s Old City in May, 1948, the Jordanians went purposively from synagogue to synagogue, setting them on fire  with all their contents.     Between 1948 and 1967, 34 out of 35 synagogues in the Jewish Quarter were sacked; the area abutting the Western Wall was deliberately turned into a slum; and of the 50,000 Jewish tombstones on the Mount of Olives, no fewer than 38,000 were smashed or used as paving stones for army latrines and roads.

Small wonder that, soon after uniting Jerusalem, Israel passed a law protecting the Holy Places of all religions against desecration and ensuring freedom of access and prayer.

Of course the real Palestinian argument is about land rights and not shrine rights.    That argument  is not likely to be resolved any time soon. But even if the notion that this is Palestinian land is conceded ( which, at least here, it is not), the fundamental question remains  as to whether any nation has the right to maintain the graves of either its ancestors  or its fallen soldiers on territory that it no longer controls.   Should , for instance, the American government cede control of its eleven military cemeteries in France, in  places  such as the Meuse-Argonne in Verdun, Colleville-sur Mer in Normandy or Suresnes near Paris?  Should the Australians cede control to Turkey over their cemeteries at Gallipoli or the British of their hundred of graveyards throughout the former British empire? 

The Israelis decided to extend national protective status to these ancient shrines  because they know that, in any future dispostion of the territories in question, Jewish rights of access may in practise never be guaranteed.   For unlike the United States in France and the Australians in Turkey, the Israelis do not have the luxury of  knowing that the  would-be custodians of a  national heritage site will also respect Jewish national memory.  In fact, they are painfully aware that these sites may fact suffer a form of violation for which Arabs throughout the centuries have demonstrated a particular proclivity.

Mahmoud Abbas and Saeeb Erekat do not need the excuse of this new national designation to go to war.  They have been at war all their lives with the very notion of a Jewish state.  Shrines or no shrines, their modus operandi is to use any excuse to castigate Israeli actions as a provocation. The Cave of the Patriachs and Rachel’s Tomb, holy to Jew and Muslim alike,  should have become, rather than a casus belli , a symbol of cooperation and respect between the two communities.   Sadly, there is only one side of the conflict that responds in this way.  In the absence of  such neccessary mutual respect and understanding, the Israelis are absolutely correct to extend national sovereignty to these irreplacable shrines.

Israel’s Bad Week on Campus

February 15, 2010

It hasn’t been the best of weeks on campus for  Israel.  

  • On Monday, Danny Ayalon, the deputy foreign minister, was almost physically assaulted at Oxford Univesity while giving an address to the Oxford Union.  Antisemitic and anti-Israel abuse was shouted throughout  Ayalon’s speech with onse student even running toward him during the  hour-long session, shouting the Arabic phrase “Itbah Al-Yahud” “(Slaughter the Jews!”).  As many as 10 others, carrying Palestinian flags, made attempts to attack Mr Ayalon but were intercepted and removed by security.
  • The same day, on the other side of the Atlantic, Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, attempted to deliver an address at U.C. Irvine in Southern California and was interrupted 10 times before the protestors were forcibly removed.   Eventually eleven of the students involved inthe distrubances were arrested.   At one stage, Oren had to leave the podium for 20 minute while the auditorium was cleared of hecklers.
  • On Tuesday it was the turn of Benny Morris, the iconclastic professor from Ben Gurion University of the Negev, who was prevented from giving his plannned speech at Cambridge University.   The Israel Society at Cambridge University succumbed to pressure and canceled  his scheduled addres  after protesters accused him of “Islamophobia” and “racism.”

If anyone thinks that the three incidents are merely coincidental, think again.  All three are part of a concerted plan to demonize I srael on campuses across the world, a campaign that has acheived more success than its organizers  could have ever imagined.  In Morris’ case, according to the Jerusalem Post, the Muslim victory was self -righteously congratulated by Islamic groups: 

“ The  Muslim Public Affairs Committee congratulated Cambridge’s Islam Society on the success of their campaign and lobbying to stop the Islamophobe Benny Morris giving a speech at their university… A simple Facebook group and a well written letter is all that it takes to defend your religion,” the group said.” 

And how did the authorities react?    Well at Oxford there was a reprimand and at UCI, arrests.   But at Cambridge, no figure of authority sought to comment onthe irony that while the actress Miriam Margolis is permitted to depict Jews as both bigoted and blood-thirsty, a historian of Morris’  pedigree – with a reputation for remarkable even handedness is treated as a pariah.   Last October, lawyer Michel Massih, a man distinguished by his defense of such luminaries as Sudan’s President Bashir, dredged up traditional anti-Semitic tropes, merely switching the word ‘Jew’ for Zionist. In  March, 2009  Abdul Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper and who  had declared the  attack on Jerusalem’s Mercaz Harav yeshiva, in which eight students were killed and 15 were wounded, was “justified” as the school was responsible for “hatching Israeli extremists and fundamentalists.”   

And to top it all, in just a few days,  Daud Abdullah, deputy-secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, will speak at Islam Week organized by the Cambridge University Islamic Society. Last year, the British government distanced itself from Abdullah after he signed the Istanbul Declaration, in which he called for attacks on the British navy, were it to enforce a ban on arms smuggling to Gaza.  He has also called for continued military action against Israel. 

Throughout the world, university administrations turn a blind eye to Muslim bigotry and hatred while doing nothing to quell the bilious assault on Jews and Israel.    But the rising tide of venom will not stop at  just Jews and Zionists.   It will eventually swamp the university itself, bringing with it fear and instability. That is a day our universities are attempting to forestall through policies of appeasement.   But like all policies of appeasement,  they will only serve to swell the tide.


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