May 22, 2009


Those who viewed news reports of the supposedly successful firing of Iran’s Sajjil-2 rocket this week as an alarming development, have reasons to be worried. 

The rocket’s 1200 mile range can easily penetrate both Israeli and European airspace, making it a powerful addition to the Iranian arsenal and continuing threat to the West. 

Iran does not, by all reports, have enough fissile material to build a nuclear weapons;  nor does it have the capacity to manufacture a nuclear warhead.  No one seems able to agree when it will have these capacities or what its real intentions will be when it obtains them. 

But what everyone seems to agree, is that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear power will unalterably shift the balance of power in the Middle East and send the region spiraling into a new arms race. 

No one feels that heat greater than Iran’s Arab neighbors.  Iran, lest we forget, is the country with the third largest number of neighbors- its land mass being separated from Europe, Africa, Central Asia and the Indian sub-continent by just a single country.  Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the Gulf States and Turkey – all share borders with Iran, while Jordan, Egypt and India are close enough to be regarded as kissing cousins. 

None of those nations want to see Iran acquire nuclear weapons.  All have a vested interested in seeing Iranian aggression curtailed and ensuring that it does not challenge Israel as a regional hegemon. 

Israel?  Figuring that country into the mix might seem a little anomalous. After all, there is little ostensible reason to believe that most of the aforementioned countries would lose any sleep if the Jewish state was eliminated by an Iranian nuclear attack. 

But such a view betrays the Middle East’s dirty little secret:  all of the so-called moderate Arab states – including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and most of the Gulf States see Israel, because of its military muscle and its strategic depth as a hedge against Iranian imperialism and territorial overreach.  They understand that Iran’s theocratic regime poses a far greater danger to their existence than Israel and are surrepetitiously willing to work with the Jewish state to ensure Iran’s containment.  An attack on Israel, they all understand, would essentially be an attack upon themselves.   

It wouldn’t be the first time Israel has come to the aid of moderate Arab state or acted as their proxy.  In 1970 the IDF saved the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan from a coup led by Yasser Arafat’s PLO.  Over the years, Israel sought to prop up Christian regimes in Lebanon and has worked with Egypt to subvert the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Like every nation state, Israel has understood that its security depends, to a certain extent, on stability on its own borders. 

So now we have the rather perverse situation of the United States backing away from supporting Israel’s inevitable showdown with the menace of Iran while Arab countries in the region are gearing up for a fight, as least one fought by a surrogate.  

The good news in all this  might be that Israel is really not quite as isolated as is generally supposed.  The bad news is that in order to effectively attack and destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, Israel will need to traverse airspace in Iraq controlled by the American military. 

How absurd it would be then if Israel, with the tacit support and encouragement of its new found allies, undertakes a punitive mission against Iran only to be stymied by American resistance. 

We don’t really know the extent of the secret diplomacy being undertaken by Israel with its Arab neighbors.  Nor do we know the back channels that the Obama Administration might be using to prepare for a military confrontation in the Gulf.   But if I was a leader of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt or the Gulf States, I would be using whatever leverage I could to cajole Washington into an understanding that when the time comes – as it inevitably must –  Israel must be given a free hand to deal Iran a convincing and decisive blow.  

Overlooking for the time being their own persistent cowardice and timidity, it is the very least they could do to pay back the country that is going to be doing the fighting for them and ensuring the stability of the region.


May 22, 2009

I didn’t make it to the AIPAC Conference this year, but the cold wind that blew out of that gathering seems to have among the many returnees staggering back from Washington D.C., I have sensed a mind-numbing shell shock, the results of having endured an ignominious defeat. 

Not only did President Obama not attend the conference, as presidential candidate Obama did, but his Vice President –  once a steadfast ally on Israeli defense issues, made it clear that the Administration intends to  apply greater pressure  against Israel into making significant concessions to the Palestinians of a nature that could determine the future survival of the Jewish state.  

And that’s not all.   According to a report in the Israel national paper Ha’aretz, National Security Adviser James Jones was quoted in a classified foreign ministry cable as having said that:  “The new administration will convince Israel to compromise on the Palestinian question. We will not push Israel under the wheels of a bus, but we will be more forceful toward Israel than we have been under Bush.”  He then explained that the US, the EU and the moderate Arab states will jointly determine together what “a satisfactory endgame solution,” will be. 

As if to confirm such a plan , U.N.  Middle East envoy Tony Blair has been commissioned to design a new framework for a comprehensive Middle East, which, he has implied, may involve  the resuscitation of the Arab League peace plan of 2002. That plan, which calls for Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank and the Golan Heights and the acceptance of millions of Palestinian refugees as Israeli citizens, has been regarded by every Israeli government – of left or the right –  as posing an unacceptable threat to the Jewish character of the State. 

Putting two and two together, there seems to be plenty of evidence for the view that Obama’s Administration believes, much like the Carter and Bush 1 Administrations before it, that the root of the Middle East conflict is not Arab rejectionism and unbridled support for terror, but Israeli intransigence.   The ominous implication of the new policy is that decisions regarding the security and very survival  of the Jewish state will be wrested from its government ‘s hands and handed over to foreigners.   

These developments have worrying implications for the West, for the following reasons: 

The second is that Iran will not see the U.S. Administration’s pressure on Israel as payback for the restraints on its own nuclear ambitions.  Rather, it will see it as encouragement for the further strengthening of its resolve to confront the West.    The suggested nexus between the elevation of Palestinian dignity and the pacification of Iranian aggression has no basis in reality.    U.S. policy should recognize that the Iranians’ issue with Israel is not the way it treats Palestinians, but with the very notion of a Jewish state in itself.  

The third is the significant damage such action can do in the unified resolve of the West to confront Muslim fundamentalism.  With rising Muslim disaffection in the capitals of Europe and acquiescence and appeasement of domestic demands for equality, the last thing the West needs to be seen doing is dumping a Western ally who is such a potent symbol of democratic success.  The psychological victory brought about by such humiliation can only strengthen the belief of Arab governments and Islamic European minorities, that the West can be defeated.  

 Nothing has happened yet and the Obama Administrations should be judged on what it does and ot on its proposals or unconfirmed plans.   But in this time of uncertainty, as the West spins into a potentially disastrous cycle of appeasement and capitualation, we better understand that the chill emanating fromthe White House, may be the first frosty signs of a howling Arctic gale blowing at us from the future.


May 22, 2009


The American Israel Political Affairs Committee ( AIPAC) has stood for more than a generation as the crowning glory of U.S.Jewry’s  achievements and prestige.   The political action committee has traded in the kind of influence that most lobbyists can only dream of –  building a political base and a national constituency which commands the attention of congressmen, senators and presidents alike.  While it has certainly  had its ups and downs it has, for the main, been one of the best hedges against the descent of American foreign policy into the corrosive anti-Zionism which is the hallmark of  so many other Western nations. 

But those salad days may  now be well behind it.  A new U.S. Administration, with broader global concerns, is indicating that it doesn’t need AIPAC and perhaps not even Israel itself.  In fact, both may stand in the way of the execution of a strategy of diplomatic  engagement designed to placate the grievances of  U.S. enemies and build rapport with European allies. 

That dark clouds are beginning to gather over the once bucolic relationship should be clear to anyone who has witnessed the cold shoulder the Israelis have received from the Administration to date. 

First there was the IDF’s chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, who could not, on a recent visit to Washington, get any of his phone calls to the Administration returned, nor could he line up any of his usual business appointments. 

Second there was Israeli president Shimon Peres’ off handed treatment during his White House visit,  in which he was shunted in and out of the Oval Office without the usual protocol accorded a head of state. 

Then there was Vice -President Joe Biden’s ominous remarks to the AIPAC Conference (which the president chose not to attend) in which he challenged the Jewish community and the State of Israel to demonstrate a willingness to make peace-  as if the loss of  nearly 1,200 Israeli lives and countless injured since the  signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, was not sufficient proof of Israeli sacrifice for that noble goal. 

Next week Benjamin Netanyahu will make his first visit to the Obama White House and the protocol used and body language exhibited will be carefully watched.  Those who observed Obama’s frosty reception of the U.K.’s Gordon Brown, the U.S.’ traditional ally and his seeming obeisance to leaders of countries who have shown only contempt for American ideals and values, have reason to be cautious. 

Gutted from the old document are the following four crucial paragraphs regarding Palestinian compliance with former agreements:

1. Urging the U.S. government to vigorously enforce the Palestinian Antiterrorism Act.  In addition, urging the U.S. government and other parties of the Quartet’s to adhere to the position that they will not have contact with or provide funds to a Palestinian Authority that includes Hamas unless and until Hamas recognizes Israel‘s right to exist as a Jewish state, forswears terror, and fulfills prior agreements between Israel and the PLO.  Hamas needs to disarm and abrogate its terrorist charter which includes calling for Israel‘s destruction and murder of Jews.  

2. Urging Congress and the Administration to continue to support the criteria laid out by President Bush’s June 24, 2002 speech that the establishment of any interim Palestinian state be contingent first and foremost upon the total cessation of violence and incitement, dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure, and the change to a democratically elected Palestinian leadership untainted by terror.  This includes the principles that any final peace agreement be the result of direct negotiations between the Government of Israel and such a reformed Palestinian Authority, and that the U.S. continue to oppose any Palestinian assertions or implementation of powers that would jeopardize Israeli security or jeopardize access to Jewish holy sites; = 

3.  Urge the ruling Fatah party to formally renounce and abrogate the ten clauses of its charter which calls for the destruction of Israel by use of terrorism and opposes any political solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.  

4. Ensuring that Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, remains united as the capital only of Israel, securing the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem without delay, and urging the administration to discontinue invoking the Jerusalem Embassy Act’s national security waiver, and urging that the phrase˜ Jerusalem, Israel” be used on all official U.S. government documents, including passports, which mention Jerusalem. 

One of the most interesting features of journalist’s Aaron Klein’s recent book, The Late Great State of Israel, is his revelation that many members of Fatah’s Preventative Security Services, today being armed and trained by the United States, moonlight as al Asqa Brigade operatives, committed to Israel’s destruction and the death of Jews .   The al Asqa Brigade, indistinguishable in ideology and operational tactics from Hamas’ paramilitary units, is closely associated with Fatah and has carried out countless attacks on Israeli citizens, resulting in hundreds of deaths of men, women and children.  Klein also points out the obvious, that Fatah, first under Arafat and now under Abbas, has never carried out any of its agreements and shows no signs of doing so.  Mahmoud Abbas’s response last week to demands that he would not recognize the Jewish character of the State of Israel should be the conclusive indication that any prospective peace deal with the current Palestinian leadership is a non-starter. 

And yet the drive for Palestinian statehood bulldozes on, sweeping aside any objections and logical inferences about Palestinian intentions or conduct. 

Has AIPAC bought into this new perspective, despite the reality staring it in the face?  That is only to be seen in the coming weeks as the Obama Administration makes its Middle East agenda clear and then the AIPAC response.  

AIPAC, as an organization, has traditionally followed the government of Israel’s lead on both diplomatic and security issues.  But what if the left leaning AIPAC leadership comes up hard against a right leaning Israeli government, one which has yet to endorse a two state solution or that proffers incontrovertible proof that funds being sent to the Palestinian Authority are being used, at least in part, to fund terrorism?   Would AIPAC’s positions on unquestioned aid to the Palestinians and support for Palestinian statehood then remain the same?  

 But the lessons of the Second World War  and organized American Jewry’s response to reports of the Holocaust, should act as a salutary lesson to our current leadership.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt was also a popular president who commanded the loyalty of more than 85% of American Jewry in the 1930s and 40s. That leadership, headed by the suave and politically dexterous Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, abided the U.S Administration’s failure to take any action regarding the reports of Nazi extermination policies emanating from Europe.  Time and time again, when confronted with devastating accounts of the Holocaust in Europe, the American leadership, in deference to FDR, chose silence, out of respect for the Administration’s argument that the Jews of Europe could only be saved by victory in the land war and all other matters were ancillary and subordinate to that aim.  That meant that Wise and his cohorts did not lobby for increased immigration quotas for Jews; they did not push hard for bombing the train tracks leading to Auschwitz and other concentration camps; nor did they actively publicize the death of millions of their co-religionists to the wider American public. 

Instead they did the opposite.  They demonized those who sought, like the activist Peter Bergson, to bring nationwide attention to the atrocities; they lobbied against the creation of the War Refugee Board , which, if it had been created in 1942, rather than in 1944, would have saved millions of Jewish lives; and they did nothing to urge the British to open the gates of Palestine to Jewish refugees. 

And how did FDR repay these acts of loyalty?   With derision and contempt, refusing to meet with Wise for months; allowing his Secretary of Immigration ,the antisemitic Breckinridge Long, to stonewall any attempt to increase immigration quotas for Jews and fighting against the creation of a War Refugee Board until it was realized that the political backlash could overwhelm his 1944 electoral campaign. 

The lives of millions of Jews are at greater risk than at any time since the Second World War. The American Jewish leadership cannot afford this time to stand idly by, while a U.S. Administration dictates to it how it should respond to a crisis involving the welfare of the Jewish people. 

There is a time in history for true leaders to stand their ground and no matter what the consequences, forthrightly speak their mind.  That time may be approaching.  Lets hope that AIPAC, one of U.S. Jewry’s most impressive organizational achievements, has absorbed the lessons of the 1940s and will do what is necessary to stand adamantly for the protection of the State of Israel and for the preservation of Jewish life.


May 9, 2009

The inclusion of  the name  Michael Savage on a list issued by the British Home Secretary Jacki Brown of  ” undesirables” who would not be permitted entry to Britain, should make any person’s hair stand on end for its sheer scale of outrage. 

Savage, the conservative shock jock, who has parlayed his unrepentant brand of conservative ire for more than two decades on U.S. radio and television, was grouped with a multicultural hodge podge of criminals, Islamic preachers, and white supremacists on the same list, instantly transforming him into the new cynosure for international free speech.  Jacki Brown has of course acquitted herself in a similar vein over the past few months, when she issued an order to prevent the arrival of Dutch politician Geert Wilders who had been invited to speak in the House of Lords.  

Savage, mind you, is no saint.  His modus operandi   is confrontational and  deliberately offensive and does a considerable disservice to the conservative constituency he represents and seeks to influence. 

But as Savage himself notes, being grouped with murderers who are in prison for killing Jewish children on buses, seems to be a development  that highlights one of the most significant threats to free speech throughout the West. 

Savage was cited for his engagement in ” unacceptable behaviour ” that could ” lead to intercommunity violence”.  But if giving offense, wanton conduct or offensive behaviour form the principal  criteria for debarring individuals from entering the United Kingdom , then many American celebrities such as Howard Stern, Bill Maher  and Anne Coulter would have also made the list.   So too would have Al Franken, Keith Oldermann and Don Imus. 

For the truth is that Savage was singled out, not for his “unaccceptable behavior” but for his conservative views which are not consonant with those of  Britain’s cultural and political elite.   His condemnation of homosexuality, characterized as  “homophobia”, poses an affront and danger to this same elite and to the politically correct universe they inhabit. Objections to gay marriage, Muslim intolerance or foreign influence in the universities must be spoken of discreetly, for fear of the steep economic and social repercussions

  The situation is little different in Barack’ Obama’s America.   Carrie Prejean, Miss California who , it is alleged, lost her bid to become Miss World because of a stated support for traditional marriage, understands now the costs of tripping the wires of political correctness.  That she should suffer outrage, ridicule and punishment for her traditional  words and beliefs, is, like Savage’s case on the other extreme, a troubling augur of things to come.

 In that light,  we should never forget that while England was without doubt  the place where the Magna Carta was written, it was also the place where George Orwell wrote 1984  .    If so, then lets be reminded of  Orwell’s description of  his hero, Winston Smith’ s, central  dilemma: 

“The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed–would have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper–the essential crime that contained all others in itself. “Thoughtcrime”, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you.”

 The movement for the preservation of free speech around the world could do better than Michael Savage as its latest poster boy.    But I would take Savage any day over the prosecutors of  thoughtcrime who are surrepetitiously worming their way into the hearts and minds of millions of citizens throughout the West.


May 4, 2009

It is not so long ago that I thought everyone shared exactly the same grasp of the concept of academic freedom. Stated plainly it is defined as affording teachers in schools and universities the liberty to teach, pursue, and discuss knowledge without restriction or interference, by either school administrations or public officials. The concept had its origins in Germany in the 1850s and became institutionalized in the United States when the American Association of University Professors laid down its principles in 1913 and later clarified them in 1940. The AAUP Declaration of Principles not only protected teachers, but also protected students who were to be free of ideological coercion from their instructors

Since then, it has become a fundamental building block of the modern democratic state – so essential to the maintenance of an open and free society that it is spoken of in the same breathless, sacrosanct tones as freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.

But what happens when professors on our university campuses use the shield of academic freedom to promote antisemitism, racial prejudice, Holocaust denial and support for America’s enemies? Are they deserving of the same protections afforded others with controversial views? 

That question was brought poignantly to my attention this week when the communications of a University of Santa Barbara professor’s anti-Israel slurs became very public. 

The facts are these: On January 19, 2009, UC Santa Barbara professor, Bill Robinson, a tenured sociology professor, e-mailed his Globalization class students an inflammatory anti-Israel written article by Judith Stone along with 42 photos of Nazi atrocities which were mirrored  by 42 photographs of Israel’s purported atrocities in its war in Gaza earlier this year.  His introductory comments equated Israel’s military operations in Gaza with Nazi atrocities, asserted that Israel was committing genocide and that the state was founded on the negation of another people.   When one surprised student emailed asking whether this was an assigned reading, Professor Robinson admitted it had nothing to do with the course, but “was just for your interest, as I should have clarified.”

Two students promptly dropped the class. They later filed grievances, claiming that Professor Robinson had violated the Faculty Code of Conduct  in that:
1. There should be no significant intrusion of material unrelated to the course
(II A, 1, b); 
2. That faculty members should not use their positions of power to coerce judgment or conscience of a student ((II, A, 4);
3. That faculty should not use University resources for personal, commercial, political, or religious purposes (II, C, 3)). 

The UCSB Faculty Code of Conduct is perfectly in line, in these matters, with the traditional  protections afforded by academic freedom. The Code in fact follows many of the faculty directives of other universities around the country.

But Robinson was outraged at what he considered to be a Zionist conspiracy to silence him and strip him of his supposed academic rights. Within days of the filing of the complaint, a new campus organization, the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom  at UCSB sprang into life, with dozens of UC Santa Barbara professors signing on and hundreds of students declaring their support for the beleaguered professor. Robinson, writing in his own defense, focused on what he regarded as the violation of procedural issues and then went on to claim that  “I find this complaint to be a potent, ominous, politicized violation of academic freedom. My right, in accordance with the (UCSB Faculty) Code to ‘present controversial material relevant to a course of instruction’, is being violated. ”  His supporters, among them noted professors at UCSB, claimed that Robinson is the victim of a witch hunt. 

At issue, of course, is the question of whether professors can say anything they want, whenever they want and, while providing their students with materials which subscribe to highly controversial points of view, fail to offer countervailing opinions or materials.  It should be no surprise that professors such as Robinson, and his counterparts in anti -Israel and anti-American invective such as Norman Finkelstein and Ward Churchill, regularly use academic freedom to mask the propagation of their radical points of view.  Nor should it surprise anyone that the radicalization of the campus has not been enough for such men. The desire to offend and to even speak flagrant untruths seems to be now claimed as protected aspects of teaching that comes under the rubric of academic freedom

On the right, the complete collapse of academic freedom, wherein conservatives can barely express an opinion nor be taken seriously as competent in their fields, is a fixed belief.   Last week, at about the same time I was learning about Robinson’s case, a Californian female professor seeking employment out of state informed me that at the interview with the university in question, she had been intensely grilled about her suspected conservative views and affiliations. She instinctively knew that any admission that she harbored such views or affiliations, would have doomed her candidacy.

That academic freedom – or its abuse-  is being claimed by both right and the left to defend various points of view was made clear to me last year when I was putting the finishing touches on AFA’s own academic freedom conference How Free Is the University? 

In the course of our research we discovered that several other academic freedom conferences had been organized within months of our own.  The University of Chicago held a one day conference on October 12, 2007 titled In Defense of Academic Freedom  which featured the redoubtable leftist  beneficiaries of academic freedom Noam Chomsky, John Mearsheimer and Tony Judt themselves.

In early February, 2008, academics at De Paul University, reacting angrily to the tenure denials of Norman Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee ( who were denied their full professorships, it seems, on the basis of the shoddiness of their research rather than the controversy of their views) ran its own conference titled the De Paul Academic Freedom Conference   which featured a number of practitioners of “balanced” political instruction such as Bill Ayres, Asad AbuKhlalil and Juan Cole.

A few weeks later it was New York University’s turn to join the chorus, decrying the collapse of academic freedom when it ran its own conference First National Teach-In on Freedoms at Risk in America.

 This time around, the gathering of the persecuted included the aforementioned Norman Finkelstein ( last seen on al Jazeera Television espousing support for a terrorist organization and denouncing Israel) and Lynne Stewart, convicted in 2005 of conspiracy to provide and conceal material support for terrorists.

So on the one hand you have conservatives denouncing the absence of academic freedom for their positions, while on the other, you have exactly the same hue and cry is being whelped by radical leftists who feel similarly abandoned in the cold.

Newspaper editors often argue that if you are offending both sides equally then you know you are doing a good job.

Who is right then?

The harsh, brutal answer is that the words ” academic freedom” themselves no longer have much meaning  for anyone other than historians.  That is because academic freedom did not develop as a means of promoting any particular point of view but was a vehicle to assist academics in their quest for truth. On this path, academics should be balancing a wide variety of materials and arguments, the better to test the credibility of any given proposition or theory.   In such a pursuit of knowledge and truth ‘balance’ is an absolutely critical ingredient -a requirement which really forms the bedrock of the academic freedom philosophy. 

But with such a highly charged atmosphere on campus these days it is almost impossible to obtain that kind of objectivity from anyone – administrators included.  Even in the sciences, where one would believe that the data speaks for itself, politics has intruded, barring any discussion of such sensitive subjects as the theory of intelligent design, the growing evidence against man-made climate change or the discovery of e in the universe of proof for the uniqueness of our planet.

Yet the tug of war between the two sides has essentially split the baby in two, rendering the entire concept of academic freedom, rather than a universally accepted philosophy, now more of one of personal preference to be decided on an individual  basis. The concept of academic freedom probably then needs an overhaul ,to be replaced by an entirely new philosophical construct – one that is primarily based on the demands for balance and the objective pursuit of truth. How such a philosophy can be discussed or constructed, let alone agreed to in the oxygen starved atmosphere of the modern university campus, remains to be seen.

But while we are waiting for the academy to be rehabilitated, one thing remains clear: any academic – liberal or conservative, radical leftist or fundamentalist right winger, who espouses any personal point of view without at least considering an opposing position, cannot be trusted. His or her written work should not be taken seriously; their teachings should be regarded as suspect and their scholarly failings rightfully exposed.

Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky should take note. And so should Professor William Robinson at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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