U.S. Official Calls Netanyahu “Chickenshit”

ObamaNetanyahu

Whoever in the U.S. government said that Netanyahu is “chickenshit,” is basically right. The only thing Netanyahu cares about is his political survival. He has no overarching principles other than political success. He’s not a leader, but a finger in the wind kind of guy. My guess is that Iran does not think that he’ll ever attack their nuclear sites, because Netanyahu would worry about the political implications–of course, Iran would probably be wrong about that, because other Israelis would likely force Netanyahu’s hand if Iran were to move quickly toward nuclear weapons. And Netanyahu would never challenge the far-right settler movement, because he might lose a coalition partner and a slice of his vote. That’s partly why the vast majority of Israelis don’t really like him (in addition to opposition to his domestic economic policies). He got elected to prime minister in spite of that (and in spite of Likud losses in 2013), mainly because Israelis are fragmented and divided in their support for various parties. It was not an affirmation of Netanyahu, but he was the least bad choice for enough Israelis.

Plus the slur is rather tame considering what Israelis call Netanyahu and other Israeli political leaders. Americans and American Jews aren’t used to this kind of playground foul-mouthing. But it’s not a big deal for Israelis when Israelis do it. I wish American Jews were less prudish and more ready to mix it up where Israel is concerned, just as Israelis do.

And, yes, I realize it’s different when Israelis use foul language than when U.S. officials do it (even unnamed ones). But this kerfuffle was way overblown. It’s making a mountain out of a molehilll.

 


http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.623410

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/oct/30/john-kerry-condems-official-insult-netanyahu

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New Alliances in the Middle East

It seems that Egypt, the PLO, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE–more or less in conjunction with Israel–now find themselves in alliance against Hamas, Qatar, and Turkey.

You would not know this from PLO rhetoric against the Israeli attacks on Gaza, but, behind the scenes, Netanyahu and the Israeli coalition are generally on relatively good terms with PLO/Egypt/Saudi Arabia/UAE at the moment. They are also all mad at Kerry and Obama for helping out Qatar and Turkey who are helping Hamas (at least that’s their point of view).

There is a powerful desire on the part of many Arab leaders, including the PLO, to get rid of Hamas once and for all. What no one says publicly is that quietly they support Israel’s incursion into Gaza.

It’s not clear, however, whether getting rid of Hamas is actually a good idea–which may be what’s motivating Kerry/Obama. In Hamas’ place, more radical leadership of Gaza could emerge, like Iranian-supported Islamic Jihad. Or Gaza could turn into Beirut from the 1970s and 1980s.

More likely the Egypt/PLO/Saudi Arabia/UAE/Israel alliance may be looking to weaken Hamas to such an extent that it can no longer threaten the PLO/Fatah or Israel. When you’re engaged in a massive operation like Protective Edge, that’s a narrow bridge to traverse (weaken, but don’t destroy, Hamas), and they may or may not find themselves successful.

I’m sure U.S. leaders are concerned about this. They also want to use Qatar and Turkey as intermediaries to reach out to Hamas. However, I’m not sure they know what they’re doing. By supporting the Qatar/Tukey proposal and dissing the PLO and al-Sisi (Egypt), they may (I worry) be undermining Netanyahu and Yaalon who have never wanted a full frontal attack on Hamas. But I don’t have all the information and reserve judgement at this time.

Of course, coalitions like these are moving targets and change shape at a moment’s notice. These could be alliances of very short-term convenience. We shall see where they all end up, but, given modern history, the newshape of Middle East diplomacy is fascinating (though painful and tragic), to say the least.

 

**I’m really not sure where Iran is on this. On the one hand, they are opposed to Hamas (Sunni Muslim Brotherhood vs. Shia; and Hamas supported Sunni insurgents against Syrian Assad). However, they have changed their tune a bit recently. By supporting Hamas against Israel and against PLO/Fatah, Iran could get a lot of brownie points from the broader Arab populace which supports Palestinians in general. The Iranians are probably playing it both ways actually.

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Gaza, Israel, and Media Coverage

Why are the global protests all focused on Gaza? Many more are dying in Syria: 700 over a two-day period.

Israel is the bogeyman for world media, but no one gives a hoot if Arabs are slaughtering other Arabs. What does this say about Israel and about antisemitism (yesterday protesters looted and ransacked Jewish businesses in a Paris suburb)?

Part 1: RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE ARGING THAT MEDIA COVERAGE OF GAZA IS SO EXTENSIVE BECAUSE OF ISRAEL’S FAILURE TO AGREE TO A CEASEFIRE

I don’t agree with you that the ceasefire issue is what drives the media.

The reason everyone pays attention to Gaza, and not to Syria, is because no one in the West gives a darn about Arabs and Muslims dying, but they do enjoy scapegoating Jews wherever they are. Whatever problems there are in the Middle East, blame it on the Jews. Now Muslims and Arabs have joined in on this. Take a look at Paris and its suburbs, where protesters have now burned and decimated French Jewish businesses. This is not primarily because of Gaza, but because fundamentally, at root, people blame Jews for whatever problems exists in their communities and cultures.

It’s sad, but it’s a fact. I don’t see a lot of people in Europe attacking Russian churches and community centers, because Russian separatists shot down a passenger jet. Where are the protesters on Iran’s treatment of the Bahai? Israelis are trying to protect their civilian population. You can argue about their tactics and effectiveness, but they do have a good argument based on self-defense.

No, fundamentally, the media and most people are fixated on Jews. This is a 2500-year-old problem, deeply rooted in history and culture. Those of us who devote our lives to working on antisemitism, Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations, must face this on a daily basis. That’s the reality, and no amount of rationalizations get around this fact.

PART 2: RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE ARGUING THAT EXTENSIVE MEDIA COVERAGE OF GAZA IS DUE TO LIMITED FINANCIAL RESOURCES

a) It’s not just Syria that the media ignores. Last I heard France is pretty good digs for reporters. Yet how much media attention is focused on protesters burning down Jewish shops and businesses, calling Jews “pigs” and shouting “kill the Jews,” vandalizing and storming synagogues, and hunting Jews on the streets? There were similar (though less destructive) events in Germany. I don’t see much on the TV about that. Iran is a police state, but it’s relatively safe to travel in. Where is the attention on the Iranian treatment of the Bahai, who are viciously persecuted and murdered? What about the Iranian treatment of their native Arab population and political dissidents, whom they like to hang from cranes? Where is the attention on the destruction of indigenous communities worldwide (including in the US and Canada) for corporate profit (oil, minerals, gems, whatever)? What about China and Tibet? What about the treatment of women and gays in the Arab/Muslim world? How much media attention is there on that compared to Israel? I could go on and on. The fact of the matter is, the media, and people in general, are obsessed with Jews. Israel is a good proxy for that.

There is one financial factor you did not mention: Israel coverage markets well to a public that is focused on Jews and Judaism. In other words, “Israel” sells. As the newspaper people used to say, “Israel” makes good copy.

That said, I do agree that the safety and cheapness of travel to Israel is a factor in media coverage of Israel. Part of the attraction is also that Israel is a pleasant place to which to travel and a democracy with a free press. There’s just a lot more to it than your explanation.

b) Israel is in the news all the time. The media always has stories about the Palestinian situation–not as intensely as Gaza right now, but these stories are all over the place regularly. They’re hard to miss. I don’t see nearly as much attention on the stuff I describe above as I do on Israel, even when Israel is not involved in a war.

Beyond that, there has been massive violence (with concentrated deaths in short periods of time) in other locations over the past decades with relatively little media attention: Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Congo, Ivory Coast. Back in the 1960s through the 1990s we saw hideous numbers of deaths in conflicts in South America, Africa, and East Asia (remember East Timor) without comparable attention. Naturally disasters such as occur in Bangladesh and India attract relatively little attention. These are not all impossible to cover (not as easy as Israel, but not Syria), and yet we saw very little on them. I would not expect the equivalence of Gaza, but I would have expected a lot more than we got.

Somehow the media figured out a way to cover our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and Vietnam. The media covered the breakup of Yugoslavia, including Bosnia/Serbia. They covered the Tiannamen Square uprising in China. They gave blanket coverage to the Indonesian tsunami. They focused on the 2009/10 election protests in Iran. In the U.S. the media covered the Tea Party, but much less the Occupy movement.

If it wanted to do so, the media could cover Syria to a greater extent than it has recently. Yes, it’s not easy, and, yes, it’s more expensive. Coverage of Syria would never equal coverage of Gaza, but the media could give Syria much more attention than it has–even without a lot of reporters on the ground. It chooses not to, because Syria, Arabs, and Muslims just don’t hold the attention of the public or of news decision-makers. They’re just not sexy or meaningful to enough people.

I’m not saying that it’s unreasonable to give Gaza a lot of attention. And I’m not saying that a Jewish fixation is the only reason the media focuses on Israel/Gaza/West Bank. I am saying that Gaza has attracted much more attention than other stories of similar magnitude and that part of it has to do with the public’s fascination (for both good and ill) with Israel and Jews. I’m also saying that the media picks and chooses what it decides to cover, in part based on what it thinks sells best. And Israel sells real well. And it has since 1948, especially since 1967.

And I can tell you this. Unless a miracle happens soon, stories about Israel’s conflicts with its neighbors will continue to abound (massive deaths or not), while stories about Ukraine and Russia will have long since faded into oblivion. This does have to do with the prominent place of Jews (in spite of their small numbers) and Israel in human culture and history.

c) All in all I just don’t buy this argument. It does not pass the smell test. The amount of coverage on Israel/Palestine (the former British Mandate), a tiny piece of land with a miniscule population of Jews and Arabs is massive and overwhelming, even without the current Gaza conflict. The overwhelming coverage cannot be explained away simply by reference to limited media resources. An alien from another solar system who dropped onto earth and saw the media coverage would assume that Israel/Palestine must comprise a large continent and a major portion of the world’s population. Obviously, that’s not the case. There are other reasons why the public and the media are obsessed with this little slice of our planet. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

d) I do think antisemitism is a major factor, but not the only one. It’s fixation on Jews that’s really at the core here. Even some supporters of Israel are motivated in part by the Bible and by their belief in Jews as part of God’s plan. And there are philosemitic non-Jews who focus on Jews and on Israel for a whole host of reasons. I wouldn’t call that antisemitism, but it does reflect a somewhat unhealthy obsession with Jews and Judaism. So fixation on Judaism is not simply antisemitism, but can actually be philosemitism as well. I would certainly rather have the latter than the former, but even that is a sword cutting more than one way.

I think it would be best for Jews if others would simply live their lives and leave us be. At the same time, I admit that Jews sometimes cultivate this fixation, and I’m certainly uncomfortable with that. There should be dialogue and conversation–not as an attempt to convert or to preach, but in order to learn and grow. I think it’s much better for Christians to become better Christians than to become Jews or something else, and I think it’s much better for Jews to become better Jews than to spend our time distinguishing ourselves from Christians and others.

As for one-sidedness, that’s a red herring. There are lot of one-sided conflicts in the world (some of which I already mentioned above) that do not get the same attention as Israel/Palestine. In Tibet, it’s mostly Tibetans getting killed, not Chinese. In Iran, no government officials get killed, only dissidents and disfavored minorities. In Central America, governments killed rebels and dissidents far more than the latter killed the former. In France, supporters of Israel are not attacking pro-Palestinian demonstrators, while Palestinians supporters are engaging in numerous attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions. Right now in Syria, ISIS seems to be inflicting most of the damage.

Actually, the death toll in Gaza is now over 700 Gazans and 32 Israeli soldiers, plus two civilians. Of course, that’s because Israelis try to protect their civilians, while the goal of Hamas is to have as many civilians as possible killed in order to promote their PR/media campaign. It’s amazing (though sadly not surprising) to me that the media mentions this only in passing or skeptically. Also, we have no way of knowing how many Gazan civilians vs. soldiers are being killed–Hamas is not exactly a trustworthy source for this kind of info.

In any case, the media would do well to spend more time looking more deeply at what’s going on and not simply reporting death numbers as if it’s a football game. From that perspective, however, Hamas is winning. For them the side with the most dead is the victor. So on the media scoreboard, Hamas is currently ahead of Israel, c. 1,058 vs. 53. That’s a lopsided victory for Hamas. I’m sure Hamas’ leaders are thrilled. The culture of death is winning in a landslide over the culture of life.

Perhaps, however, the distancing of other countries from Hamas that I have observed recently is a move in the right direction. That would certainly show some sophistication in not simply accepting Hamas’ explanations at face value. I hope the media will move in that direction as well.

 

PART 3: ON ISRAELI AND ARAB POSITIONS ON A PALESTINE STATE (INCLUDING THOMAS FRIEDMAN WHO WANTS ISRAEL TO FOCUS ON DEVELOPING THE WEST BANK AS A THRIVING DEMOCRACY)

I’m not a fan of Netanyahu and have never supported him or Likud. I’m not sure he’s as opposed to a Palestinian state as you think, but I’m not sure he believes in much of anything–except his own political survival. And I wrote on this blog that most Arab governments don’t want a Palestinian state either: see the same thing here-http://mysticscholar.org/whats-really-going-on-in-the…/

As far as the West Bank goes, Friedman is right in principle, but that’s no easy task either. Fatah is corrupt, inept, and non-democratic, and there is not much of a prospect for more salutary groups or institutions that could take the lead. The West Bank would need a massive shift in culture and outlook for what Friedman suggests to happen. And Arab governments, as well as Iran, have no interest in an autonomous, free, democratic Palestine. They will do everything possible to prevent that from happening. So that leaves essentially a mess for Israel to deal with. Netanyahu is not much of a leader, but I doubt that anyone or any Israeli party could deal with the current state of things. 

So what are the options? What should Israel do in light of all this? I have no idea. Neither does anyone else as far as I can make out. The best I can think of is play a waiting game and hope that the West Bank cleans up its act and that the Arab world develops some kind of democratic institutions (Tunisia??).

As far as handling Hamas, I don’t know what Israel should do. I’m not an Israeli, and I don’t live there. But I know I wouldn’t put up with rockets firing on my land and tunnels with terrorists pouring out. Perhaps there’s a better way to deal with Hamas, but I don’t know what it is, and I haven’t heard anything plausible. Demilitarizing Gaza would make sense, but that seems impossible, given Hamas and given the sentiments of Gazans. 

If you have something practical to suggest, I really would listen–really. But most of what I’ve heard out there is, quite frankly, naive, totally impractical, or simply wrong. I’m waiting–but sometimes, you just have to tread water for a while. 

Friedman can talk and talk, but his ideas are not really pragmatic or feasible; they just sound nice and thoughtful. He’s not really suggesting anything workable, just a lot of hopeful words.

In the meantime, I have to deal with the antisemitism that’s out there and that’s integrally related to the media’s depiction of Israel. France is a mess, and the attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions is reminiscent of Nazi-era events. And this is happening across Europe. The situation is ugly and screwed-up, and the media is making it worse by not explaining what’s going on.

It does bother me that Israel gets singled out for its deplorable conduct, while the other nations you mention get a pass. The BDS movement focuses on Israel, but shows no interest in advocating divestment in other countries with far worse human rights violations (in the Middle East, that would include Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, among others). This too is ugly and antisemitic, and the media does not address it at all. When you’re dealing with the detritus of the Holocaust that still remains with us and the burgeoning global antisemitism, this is very disturbing indeed.

 

Part 4: ON ISRAEL LEAVING THE WEST BANK AND THE CREATION OF A PALESTINIAN STATE THERE

The problem is: if Israelis pull out and declare a Palestinian state (so called Plan B, which many Israelis are discussing, by the way, including Netanyahu), then you are left with a disfunctional Palestinian government/society and major security issues right on Israel’s border. The West Bank Palestinian economy is not good, and no amount of help from Israel can fix a broken system. Israel has limited resources with its own enormous economic issues: a large population of young who do not have much upward mobility (just as is the case globally), an excessively high cost of living, a minority of ultra-orthodox who profit from the current welfare system without putting much back into it, an electoral system that promotes fragmentation (giving excess weight to small parties), and a military budget that will not diminish just because Israel leaves the West Bank.

Therefore, if Israel leaves the West Bank on its own or with an agreement, it will be faced with a restive, frustrated Palestinian population in the West Bank, a corrupt government that is anti-democratic and probably unable to improve the economy much at all, and the potential for a neighbor that will continue its war and terrorism against Israel as a way of casting blame away from itself. And you cannot forget that the Fatah government would have limited ability to govern, given that Hamas has considerable influence in the West Bank and that there are numerous other splinter groups in the West Bank committed to the destruction of Israel. There is no guarantee that Hamas, a fanatic group committed to the destruction of Israel and Jews worldwide, would not take over there. As we learned in Iraq, a democracy/free society does not emerge just because you wish it to be so. A lot has to be in place before that can happen. If it doesn’t, Israel will be in an even more precarious position.

Further, Arab/Muslim governments for the most part do not want an independent, free, democratic Palestinian state for a simple reason: they would be forced to face their own populations and explain themselves. Their opposition would create further difficulties for both Israel and Palestine and make the situation potentially even more volatile..

I do not support the continued building of new settlement outposts, and I’m not going to defend that. I think it’s wrong. But I don’t know what the way out is. There are many critics of Israel (including Israelis), but I have not heard much about how to solve this pragmatically other than hopeful words and pleasant thoughts. If anyone out there has read something or heard something that is practical and specific, I would be thrilled to read or hear it.

As to the media, I stand by what I’ve said. Israel/Gaza/West Bank is a tiny strip of land with a miniscule population. Even when there’s no major conflict, the media focus is enormous and disproportionate. That’s because it sells globally: in the U.S., in Europe, and in the Muslim world. It’s because it’s the land of the Bible. And it’s because Jews are involved.

PART 5: RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE ARGUING THAT THE CONCEPT OF THE “CHOSEN PEOPLE” AND OF “DIFFERENCE ARE WHAT DRIVE SOME OF THE ANIMOSITY TOWARD ISRAELIS AND JEWS

On the whole “chosen people” business, I rarely hear Jews, including most Israelis, talk about this. Most of the Israeli settlers are looking for suburban plots near Jerusalem and have no interest in theology. There are extreme settlers who talk about the Chosen People (Hebron, for example–and quite a number of them are American immigrants), but they are a small minority, and most Israelis (even religious ones) strongly dislike them.

It’s mostly Christians who talk about Jews as the Chosen People. I’ve led a lot of Jewish study groups, and that topic hardly ever comes us, except in response to Christians. Conservative/Evangelical Christians love the whole “Chosen People” trope and run with it non-stop. They have their own agenda, with end-time theology and mass conversion. Mainline and liberal Christians hate the whole idea of it and complain incessantly about Jewish superiority and tribalism.

Jewish sources talk about the Chosen People, but mostly not with pride. In Jewish tradition, God asked every other people to be the chosen ones, and they all refused. The Jews were the last, and they finally agreed to it–with a lot of complaints that have continued through the centuries. The concept of being “chosen” is not necessarily positive at all, but a burden that Jews are stuck with, forcing them to live difficult lives without much reward.

Even so, most Jews today don’t talk about it much, because it’s not an important part of daily life, of identity, or of practice. It’s mainly Christians (and now Muslims) who obsess over it.

Now, on the concept of “difference,” that’s a different matter. Lots of individuals and groups think of themselves as different. And, in fact, they are.

Teilhard de Chardin (who was a Catholic evolutionary biologist and theologian) had a concept known as the Omega Point, which he believed was the ultimate level of collective consciousness that human beings could attain in the distant future. He thought that collective consciousness depended not on homogeneity, but on hyper-individuality–each person’s authentic uniqueness.

We’re all different, and, yes, we’re all similar too, but Jews focus more on the “difference” part. They’re not the only group to do that. I don’t think that everyone should have to be the same. There should be a place (I hope) on the planet and in the human species for individuals and groups who focus more on difference.

 

ON THE DIFFICULTIES OF A TWO-STATE SOLUTION

The problem is: if Israelis pull out and declare a Palestinian state (so called Plan B, which many Israelis are discussing, by the way, including Netanyahu), then you are left with a disfunctional Palestinian government/society and major security issues right on Israel’s border. The West Bank Palestinian economy is not good, and no amount of help from Israel can fix a broken system. Israel has limited resources with its own enormous economic issues: a large population of young who do not have much upward mobility (just as is the case globally), an excessively high cost of living, a minority of ultra-orthodox who profit from the current welfare system without putting much back into it, an electoral system that promotes fragmentation (giving excess weight to small parties), and a military budget that will not diminish just because Israel leaves the West Bank.

Therefore, if Israel leaves the West Bank on its own or with an agreement, it will be faced with a restive, frustrated Palestinian population in the West Bank, a corrupt government that is anti-democratic and probably unable to improve the economy much at all, and the potential for a neighbor that will continue its war and terrorism against Israel as a way of casting blame away from itself. And you cannot forget that the Fatah government would have limited ability to govern, given that Hamas has considerable influence in the West Bank and that there are numerous other splinter groups in the West Bank committed to the destruction of Israel. There is no guarantee that Hamas, a fanatic group committed to the destruction of Israel and Jews worldwide, would not take over there. As we learned in Iraq, a democracy/free society does not emerge just because you wish it to be so. A lot has to be in place before that can happen. If it doesn’t, Israel will be in an even more precarious position.

Further, Arab/Muslim governments for the most part do not want an independent, free, democratic Palestinian state for a simple reason: they would be forced to face their own populations and explain themselves. Their opposition would create further difficulties for both Israel and Palestine and make the situation potentially even more volatile..

I do not support the continued building of new settlement outposts, and I’m not going to defend that. I think it’s wrong. But I don’t know what the way out is. There are many critics of Israel (including Israelis), but I have not heard much about how to solve this pragmatically other than hopeful words and pleasant thoughts. If anyone out there has read something or heard something that is practical and specific, I would be thrilled to read or hear it.

As to the media, I stand by what I’ve said. Israel/Gaza/West Bank is a tiny strip of land with a miniscule population. Even when there’s no major conflict, the media focus is enormous and disproportionate. That’s because it sells globally: in the U.S., in Europe, and in the Muslim world. It’s because it’s the land of the Bible. And it’s because Jews are involved.

 

ON PROSPECTS FOR A TWO-STATE SOLUTION

Actually, believe it or not, I think there will be peace some day. So I’m not pessimistic in the long term. I may be wrong, but, in my view, the Arab/Muslim world will have to move toward a more democratic system of governance before a two-state solution works. That’s going to take time. In spite of its shortcomings, the “Arab Spring” (which is not Spring in some places I realize) was a positive step. Tunisia will be interesting to watch.

Dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians will also help over time. This will not transform the region over night, but it is slowly affecting the situation and will continue to do so..

As for your idea, Ehud Barak offered something similar in 1999. Arafat and the PLO rejected it. It may not have been the right time, and Barak was a terrible negotiator.

Israel did not “seize” Gaza and the West Bank. Israel entered them in 1967 after facing a massive Arab attack. When the Arab world decides to accept a Jewish state in the Middle East (which governments are beginning to), then it will be easier to deal with the logistics of this problem.

On the Arab right of return, this is obviously a thorny issue and will involve compensation. The Palestinians are the only group in the world given “refugee” status after multiple generations of absence from a territory. When the Arab countries expelled Jews after 1948, Israel accepted them as full citizens of the state of Israel. On the other hand, Arab governments forced Palestinians to live in refugee camps and did not integrate them into Arab societies.

Israel will have to deal with this issue financially, but it’s not as one-sided as your words imply. There are two stories here, each having legitimacy: two peoples with two painful histories and competing narratives and claims to the land.

As for Hamas, I’m glad you’re confident in Gaza tossing them out under the right conditions. I’m not. And I don’t think Israelis can assume anything. All I have to do is look at other parts of the Middle East to draw another conclusion.

Nevertheless, at some point, the day will come when a two-state solution can be put into action. I just don’t think that day has arrived yet. Let’s hope it comes soon.

RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE WHO ARGUES THAT ISRAEL IS NOT A DEMOCRACY, COMPARING IT TO ALABAMA 100 YEARS AGO

KantGazaExchange1

On the Barak proposal and the Camp David Summit, most observers (including many Palestinians ones) lay the blame on Arafat–that he never offered a concrete counter-proposal and could not give up on the right of return. In the end, Arafat could not accept a Jewish state on land that he still considered as belonging to the Palestinians. In other words, he was not ready to make a deal–Barak was (even with his weaknesses as a negotiator).

As for democracy, Israel is not a perfect society, and there’s racism and prejudice there, along with at times poor treatment of its Arab population. And, yes, it is a Jewish state, with Jewish governing principles and a Jewish majority.

That said, Arab citizens in Israel have more freedom and rights than they do in almost any Arab/ Muslim society that I can think of. The rights of Arab Israeli women are far higher than in any Arab society. Arab Israelis also have a considerable higher standard of living than in the surrounding societies and can actually be openly gay without being murdered.

In 2011, the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion commissioned a poll of Arab residents of Jerusalem. A plurality indicated that, if given the choice, they would choose to live under Israel rather than the PLO and that they thought their neighbors would prefer Israeli citizenship to Palestinian citizenship. Most Israeli Arabs vehemently oppose an Israel-Palestine settlement, because they do not wish to live under the PLO. Senior PLO and Hamas leaders (including three sisters of Ishmail Haniyeh, the top leader of Hamas) have sought Israeli ID cards so that they can live in Israel if they choose. Many of them have done so, including Haniyeh’s sisters. (Haniyeh’s sisters currently live as Israeli citizens in the Bedouin town of Tel as-Sabi near Beesheva on the edge of the Negev in Southern Israel; several of their children have served in the Israeli Defense Force/IDF!). I don’t know what the polls are saying now and who is living where and who holds which ID cards, but not all Palestinians and Israeli Arabs view Israel as a authoritarian state (as you suggest). Further, their view of the Israeli government versus the PLO and Hamas is filled with complexity, nuance, and contradictions.

If we consider Germany a democracy or Italy or France or Japan or South Korea (countries that presume ethnic/linguistic/cultural majorities), then Israel is no less a democracy than any of those. Israel believes it has a right to preserve its Jewish character, that Jews need to have a place where they can live without fear of persecution, discrimination, and murder. I don’t think that’s unreasonable or contrary to democratic principles. Perhaps others have a new definition of democracy with which I am unfamiliar.

Would you really compare Israel to Alabama a 100 years ago– lynchings; micegenation laws; separate water fountains, bathrooms, park benches; not to mention effective voting prohibition? Are you sure that you thought this analogy through? I don’t think there are many objective observers who would consider your comparison legitimate or reasonable. You might want to try a new tack.

 

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What’s Really Going on in the Middle East and Gaza

Arab governments, and even Iran, are keeping a distance from Gaza and especially Hamas. The Palestinian situation in Gaza is awful and cruel, but Arab leadership despises Hamas: its radical fundamentalism and fanaticism, its promotion of terrorism in the Sinai, its goading of Israel into war, its use of civilians as human shields, and its political alliances. In fact, many in the Arab world hope that Israel will crush Hamas once and for all. I doubt, however, that Israel wants to do that (unless there’s some other group in Gaza that’s actually sane).

What the article also does not mention is the dirty little secret of the Middle East: Most Arab governments do not really want an autonomous Palestinian state. They would much rather have Israel and the Palestinians at each other’s throats in small-scale conflicts. To have a Palestinian viable, democratic state would potentially show them up and would force them to deal with their own problems.

So what’s the solution? I have no idea. And, if they’re honest, neither does anyone else. This is so much more complex than the media let on. Maybe the reporters have no clue themselves.

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Egypt’s New Pharaoh?

Morsi1

I hope Chris Hedges is wrong, but he might not be. One thing I would say: the Egyptian military has its code and laws and would not probably not accept a radical Islamic government. Morsi had better be careful with them. How this plays out will determine the future of the Arab Spring.


http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/egypts_new_pharaoh_20121216/

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Massive Demonstrations Across Syria

Wow.  With crowds chanting, “No to Iran, no to Hezbollah,” no less.  This is something, even more amazing to me than Egypt. Of course, we have no idea what the outcome will be.  Also we have to be fearful that Assad might initiate violence against Israel (perhaps through Hezbollah or Hamas) in order to distract attention from his own people’s anger at him.  Christians in Syria are probably very worried, because they have done relatively well with the Assad/Alawite secular Baathist regime. There’s also the possibility of a religious Sunni regime coming to power. But Assad is one of the most brutal family dictatorships around, virulent hater of all things Israel, and a close ally of Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Again I recall Lenin’s quote: “Sometimes decades go by, and nothing happens. Sometimes weeks go by, and decades happen.”

http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/20110325/wl_time/08599206136400

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/26/world/middleeast/26syria.html?_r=1&hp

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Major Setback at Iranian Nuclear Plant

This is significant news, suggesting that Iran may lack technical nuclear competency and that the tech attacks may well have had significant impact.  It provides more time for peaceful change in the Middle East

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/26/world/middleeast/26nuke.html?hp=&pagewanted=all

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Iran’s Nuclear Mining Deals with Ecuador and Venezuela


Iran attempts to gain access to uranium in South America.

http://shadow.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/02/15/irans_man_in_ecuador

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Bahrain and Iran


An excellent analysis of this potential social and religious powder keg, where ethnic and religious conflict lies just beneath the surface.  US policy has glossed over much of this, but the chickens are coming home to roost.  Now is the time to encourage peaceful, democratic change in order to avoid an extremist religious Shiite takeover.
http://jerusalemcenter.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/could-the-kingdom-of-bahrain-become-an-iranian-pearl-harbor/

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Aid to Israel Protects US Interests

AID TO ISRAEL PROTECTS US INTERESTS

Lexington Herald Leader Op-Ed

By Linda Ravvin, Laurence H. Kant and Mike Grossman

Posted: 12:00am on Feb 18, 2011; Modified: 7:45am on Feb 18, 2011

Sen. Rand Paul recently stated that not only does he advocate cutting off U.S. aid to Israel, but he sees that aid as fueling a Middle Eastern arms race.

As a proportion of the total budget, aid to Israel is negligible. The Israeli military has been purchasing American military hardware for many years, and an elimination of this money would cost the U.S. many manufacturing jobs.

Additionally, Israel has been at the forefront of developing military technology, and U.S. military aid funds joint projects that the American military has taken advantage of in Iraq and Afghanistan. This includes drone technology, which has saved countless American and coalition lives.

It is safe to say that Israeli technological achievements (which are at least partially funded by U.S. military aid) have helped keep American troops safer.

Israel is the only full-fledged democracy in the region. Tiny as it is, with only 7 million people, its presence serves as a model for the development of other democracies and free-market societies in the region.

Its own Arab population (including Muslims, Christians and Druze) has more freedom, legal rights, social mobility and economic opportunity than the vast majority of Arabs elsewhere in the Middle East. Many Arabs (Palestinians and others) seek to enter Israel because of the work opportunities afforded by its vibrant, high-tech economy.

Per capita, Israel has the highest level of technological entrepreneurship in the world, supported by a deep commitment to education. U.S. military aid to Israel allows Israel to continue its leadership in this (in spite of Israel’s own large military budget) and work as a partner with the U.S. in creating a global high tech economy. This means jobs for U.S. citizens as well.

Israel’s neighbors dwarf it in both population and geographical size. Many of these neighbors are sworn to Israel’s destruction. While Israel will never have a quantitative edge militarily, Israel does have a qualitative edge, and it is this edge (partially due to U.S. military aid) that has prevented its destruction.

If Israel were to lose that qualitative edge, its enemies would certainly become emboldened, and the likelihood of a new and destructive war in the Middle East would substantially increase. Given our continued dependence on oil and our other strategic interests, this would almost certainly mean a much heavier financial and military U.S. investment in the Middle East than currently exists.

U.S. military support for Israel actually increases the likelihood for peace. Israel’s qualitative military advantage makes it significantly more likely that it will take the risks necessary for a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians (and the Syrians as well). Should Israel lose U.S. military support, it would certainly not be willing to withdraw from any militarily strategic positions it currently controls, negating the land-for-peace formula of United Nations resolutions.

The main backer of state terrorism and global jihad is Iran, and a decrease in Israel’s military advantage (which would certainly occur should aid be reduced) would cause Iran to further fund anti-Israel and anti-American militias throughout the region.

Israel has been on the front line of the global war on terror for many years. Unfortunately, it appears that Israel will be forced to fight this war for many years to come.

Given the burgeoning grass-roots movements for freedom and democracy in the Arab/Muslim world (especially in Tunisia and Egypt), U.S. involvement in the Middle East and commitment to Israel are more important than ever. When a region reaches a turning point that has profound implications for the world and for America’s own interests, the U.S. should not retreat, but stay engaged.

Nobody disputes that fiscal responsibility is a vitally important goal for our nation and that we will have to make painful budgetary sacrifices. Aid to Israel is in the interest of the U.S. from a financial, strategic and moral standpoint. We encourage Paul to reconsider his stance on this issue and to support fully funding our commitments to Israel.

Linda Ravvin is president of the Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass; Laurence H. Kant is chair and Mike Grossman is co-chair of the Jewish Community Relations Committee.

http://www.kentucky.com/2011/02/18/1640058/aid-to-israel-protects-us-interests.html#more

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Mixed Assessments on Iran and Nuclear Weapons

Iran appears, at least in part, to have recovered from the Stuxnet worm attack.  The Iranians have replaced the hardware, but it is unclear whether they have control over the software.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/15/AR2011021505395.html?sid=ST2011021404206

On the other hand, the New Intelligence Estimate suggests that the Stuxnet worm has had considerable impact.  Just as important, the sanctions seem to be having an impact on some Iranian leaders, who question the wisdom of developing a nuclear weapons program given the economic impact of sanctions.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703373404576148581167010572.html

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Antisemitism on Rise in West

See Laurence H. Kant, “Anti-Semitism on Rise in West,” op-ed, Lexington Herald Leader, January 8, 2007:  Antisemitism1

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Israel, Iran, and the Stuxnet Worm

This is certainly better than a military attack or a war.  Of course, the same technology can be used for more nefarious purposes, and there’s the rub.  Still I prefer it done this way.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/16/world/middleeast/16stuxnet.html?_r=2

Then again, here’s another piece arguing that that the US and/or Israel did not design this worm and that its effect is much more minimal than what has been reported:

http://blogs.forbes.com/jeffreycarr/2011/01/17/the-new-york-times-fails-to-deliver-stuxnets-creators/

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Neturei Karta

This is from an email I wrote to a friend about some photos depicting clearly ultra-orthodox Jews happily meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, the President of Iran.

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Photos like these are actually pretty well known. Most ultra-Orthodox or Haredi (whether Hasidic, followers of the Lithuanian Yeshivah tradition, or Sephardic) have always opposed Zionism and the secular Jewish state, but they do not support harm coming to Jews.  Many of these have by now compromised (such as Agudat Israel and Shas and Hasidic groups such as Lubavitch), working with the Israeli state even though they oppose it in principle.  Among the Haredi, however, there is a particularly fanatic, right-wing group who goes beyond their opposition to the state of Israel by advocating for Israel’s destruction and who support violence against Israelis and against Jews who actively support the state of Israel.  They actually virulently oppose other Haredi who work with the Israeli state, back Ahmadenijad, give credence to Ahmadenijad’s holocaust denial (in part because they believe that many of the Jews murdered in the holocaust were not “real” Jews), and embrace Ahmadenijad’s threats of violence against Israel.  The group is called Neturei Karta (“Guardians of the City”), whose members live in various places around the world, most notably in  Meah Shearim in Jerusalem. Ahmadenijad has been photographed with them before.  See the following links:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/15/nyregion/15rabbi.html?fta=y
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neturei_Karta

Neturei Karta is radically isolated and cultish, the most extreme of the extreme.  In short, they’re crazy.

P.S. There is an Israeli film called “Kadosh,” which gives a glimpse at the lives of ultra-Orthodox groups like Neturei Karta in Meah Shearim.

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Two Very Different Views of Iran and the Middle East

Here are two very different views of Iran and the Middle East:

1)  The first is from a conservative blog and discusses a book written by an Iranian, Reza Khalili, a CIA spy who was a member of the Revolutionary Guard of Iran.  He is convinced that either the US (the preferred option) or Israel must attack Iran and that the Iranian people are hoping for such an attack.  It is important to note that he does NOT advocate an invasion, but rather an attack on the Revolutionary Guard.  He also points out that most Iranians essentially love the US and are not unfriendly to Israel.  He opposes an invasion, because NOBODY wants their nation invaded.  He is of the opinion that Iranians cannot stand the current government, but they have no power to overthrow it.

http://www.michaeltotten.com/

2) The second is by a left-wing Israeli journalist, Uri Avneri.  He is of the view that there is very little the US or Israel will or can do about Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.  Israel’s and Jews’ connection to Iran goes back several thousand years, and the positive relationship cannot be preempted by the group of crazies that now run the country.  The effect of an attack by Israel would shut down the world economy, and the US will never allow Israel to do that.  And, given Iraq and Afghanistan and the US’s own economic woes, the US is in no position to attack either.  Obama is pushing Israel on East Jerusalem, because he wants Israel to make a choice between its building policy in the Jerusalem environs and a strong sanctions policy against Iran led by the US.  If Israel pursues its current settlement policy, then the US will not pursue the sanctions.  This is the choice that the US is presenting Israel.

http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery/1270319001/

At for the Khalili interview, I am not sure that an attack on Iran, which would include both the nuclear sites and the revolutionary guards without an invasion, would lead to the overthrow of the current government.  There’s a lot of wishful thinking there, and I don’t necessarily buy that.   It’s possible, but, even if the current government falls, the new government will very likely pursue nuclear weapons, although it will take them longer if the nuclear sites are destroyed.  Khalili is no doubt correct about an invasion and the long-term negative impact of such an approach.   Yet even a targeted attack on the Republican Guard and the nuclear sites could produce a understandably self-protective reaction on the part of a broad cross-section of the Iranian people.  You might hate your oppressive government, but you don’t want foreigners to do your own work for you.  That just makes people angry.  I do believe that Khalili is correct about the religious views of the Iranian leaders–that they believe that the use of nuclear weapons will initiate the public return of the twelfth mahdi and a worldwide victory for Islam.  Many in the West find this hard to imagine, but all we have to do is listen to late night radio and hear what many in the conservative Christian community believe.  It’s pretty much the same thing, with victory coming to Christ and Christians instead of the Mahdi and Muslims.  We should take very seriously the religious views of Iranian leaders, because they actually believe what they say.

The second piece is correct in its analysis of the US view of the Jerusalem situation.  I believe that the Obama administration and many US foreign policy analysts (including those from a variety of prior administrations) believe that progress on the Israel-Palestinian conflict will give the US more leverage in dealing with Iran.  Whether this is actually true or not is another matter (whatever the merits or flaws in the Obama admin’s position on settlements).  Arab governments are terrified of Iran regardless of Israel, and progress on Israel-Palestine will likely not change the behavior of the Iranian government and of those who fear it.  The Middle East is much more complex than Israel-Palestine, and the US should not be fixated on that as some kind of cure-all.  It might buy some time, but that will end quickly.   We are dealing with governments in the Middle East that, except for Israel, are, for the most part, corrupt dictatorships (often despised by their own people, as in Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia), and that makes the situation volatile no matter what happens with the Palestinians (For Arab countries, see most recently the democracy report card of the Arab Reform Initiative:   http://arab-reform.net/IMG/pdf/annual_rep_010_english.pdf , where Palestine, by the way, scores rather low).

This is a very difficult environment.  I have no idea what the solution is.  My own sense is that Israel will attack if it appears that Iran will obtain nuclear weapons, even if the US opposes such a move.  This could have profound consequences for the US-Israel relationship and, of course, for Israel.   That is why Israel has spent a lot of time cultivating its relationship with both India and China, both economically and militarily.  In the end, this is an existential question for Israelis.  Given the holocaust and the near decimation of world Jewry, Israel is acutely aware of what the consequences of Iranian nuclear weapons would be.  Israelis will take enormous risks to prevent that from happening.  The best possibility right now might be the continuation of covert operations to slow down Iranian progress on the nuclear front, but that can only work for so long.  The effectiveness of sanctions is doubtful.

In reality, no one has a clear answer.  The best approach is for those of us are observers to try to understand the complexity of the dynamics at play and the different points of view of the people and nations involved.  At the same time, any kind of open dialogue is preferable.  This is a time when the lines of communication need to be open and when people of different backgrounds need to be talking with one another, even if there is very little apparent progress and even if they are not talking about the Middle East.  Sometimes just talking about gardening or sports builds the foundation for real understanding.  And I know that this may sound pollyannish, but we need prayer and meditation to surround this region with imagery of peace and light.

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