Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hard to figure? Not really

The JTA is reporting that even larger numbers of Israelis are living in America than previously thought: Some 140,323 Israelis reside in the US, though many observers believe the true figure is much, much higher.

Meanwhile, the Jewish Agency has just released figures that show 3,980 U.S. Jews have made aliya in 2010.

There are no simple explanations for this ratio.

It is what it is...

Palestina Si? No!

What's behind the rush of South American countries to recognize "Palestine?" A myriad of disheartening factors – outlined below – combine to provide perspective. Overriding them all, though, is the pervasive left-wing Latin American political culture that sees the Palestinians, particularly those led by Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas, through rose-tinted glasses – as progressive underdogs ready to compromise for peace, confronting an unyielding right-wing Israeli government, not to mention the nuisance of Hamas's control of Gaza. Fatah has traduced Israel while putting its own, ostensibly moderate, best foot forward. In such a climate, it would be unthinkable – notions of traditional international law and sovereignty notwithstanding – to say "no" to the Palestinians.

In matters of foreign policy, much of South America follows the lead of Brazil whose regional influence nowadays far exceeds that of the United States. When outgoing President Lula da Silva (his protégée Dilma Roussef replaces him in January) recognized the "legitimate aspiration of the Palestinian people for a secure, united, democratic and economically viable state coexisting peacefully with Israel" it was predictable that Argentina, Uruguay and Ecuador also countries considered "friendly" toward Israel, would follow suit. A delighted Jimmy Carter, speaking in Sao Paolo, lauded Brazil for facilitating the peace process.

While Brazilian fire-brand essayist Olavo de Carvalho maintains that there is no politician left in his former homeland who is openly pro-Israel, in the Latin American context Brazil is still considered friendly toward the Jewish state. In March 2010, "Lula" became his country's first head of state to visit Jerusalem. But in May Lula travelled to Iran reciprocating Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Brazil in November 2009. With Brasília's encouragement, Israel was the first state outside the region to sign a free trade agreement with the Mercosur group of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay. Indeed, over half of Israel's exports to Latin America go to Brazil. Now, however, this has been offset by a virtual trade deal between Mercosur and sham-Palestine. Uruguay, one of continent's more enlightened countries, is adding insult to injury by sending a parliamentary delegation to Iran.

In the face of all this, Israel can do little more than pursue good bilateral relations with its friends while holding out small expectation of being able to influence their attitudes on the Arab-Israel conflict. All the more discouraging is the fact that these setbacks come despite concerted efforts in 2009 by Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to resuscitate Jerusalem's largely dormant diplomacy in South America. Lieberman visited the region, the ministry hosted a Conference of Latin American Parliamentarians at the Knesset, and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon participated in an annual Organization of American States conference in Honduras.

In connection with Hugo Chavez's Venezuela and Evo Morales's Bolivia, Israel can allow itself no delusions; their hostility toward Israel and alliance with Iran is unambiguous. Morales has not only recognized Palestine but thrown in the charge of "genocide" against Israel. In 2009, during Israel's war to stop Hamas's cross-border aggression, Morales broke diplomatic ties with Israel and tarred its leaders as war criminals. Venezuela, too, broke relations with Israel over invented "massacres" in Gaza.

In a region intrinsically hospitable to the Arab cause – even in 1947, only 13 of the then 20 Latin American member nations voted in favor of partitioning Palestine, though Uruguay and Guatemala were instrumental in pushing for passage – Abbas's envoys have pursued a discreet diplomatic blitz, part of a larger strategy aimed at gaining European Union, UN General Assembly, and ultimately UN Security Council endorsement for the creation of a Fatah-led Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza without having to engage in bargaining with Israel. In this way, Fatah would have to make no compromises on refugees nor be obliged to recognize Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state. If successful, Abbas's approach would be a vindication of Yasir Arafat's analysis adopted by the Palestinian National Council in 1974 that Israel could only be destroyed in phases.

Of course, it cannot help that Washington's influence in the region has been waning while Teheran's clout is growing. In the final analysis, however, Israel-based Brazilian journalist Michel Gawendo posits, perhaps the determinative factor to Israel's Latin America quandary is the homogenous thinking of the continent's leaders. Their political socialization has come under inordinate influence from the Sao Paulo Forum, founded jointly by Lula and Fidel Castro. This little-known amalgamation of left-leaning elites has developed a coherent set of values about politics and policy that is inherently anti-Western and essentially unsympathetic to Israel's cause. Most leaders now in power, Lula himself has noted, are forum alumni.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Stockholm Gets Drawn into the War of Civilizations

A Baghdad-born, British-educated Islamist suicide bomber holding Swedish citizenship killed only himself after apparently stumbling on an icy patch and accidentally detonating two of the three explosive devices he had brought to a bustling Stockholm shopping district. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt leader of the Moderate Party reacted placidly to the attempted mass murder saying that Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly's behavior was "unacceptable" and urging Swedes not to jump to conclusions about any jihadist connection.

That may prove tricky. Before the attack al-Abdaly emailed an audio recording to the media in which he declared himself a jihadi. While admitting that it was unaware of al-Abdaly, the Swedish domestic security agency SÄPO estimated that there are some 200 violent Islamists in the country.

Sweden has been neutral since the early 1800s managing to sit out both world wars that ravaged Europe. Yet, paradoxically, it appears destined to be inexorably drawn into the Islamist war against Western civilization. Even during the Holocaust Sweden sought to avoid entanglement though, ultimately, in 1943, it offered itself as a haven to Jews fleeing Nazi-occupied Denmark. Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg stationed in Budapest rescued many Jews from Hitler's clutches only to disappear when the Soviets liberated the city.

It was another Swede, Emil Sandstrom, who in 1947 headed the UN committee which recommended the partition of Palestine into two states, one Arab, one Jewish. The Arabs said "no" and tried to strangle Israel at its birth. So Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN envoy to the Mideast, offered a peace plan that would have rolled back Israel's newly gained sovereignty. He was assassinated in 1948 by Zionist militants. Later, Swedish diplomats Dag Hammarskjold and Gunnar Jarring also sought to mediate between Arabs and Israelis.

Many Swedes are sympathetic to Israel, according to Manfred Gerstenfeld a Jerusalem-based analyst of Scandinavian affairs, citing the example of Hokmark Gunnar, a Moderate Party member of the European Parliament and chair of the Sweden-Israel Friendship Association. Since the 1960s, however, the Swedish left has been hostile. The late Social Democrat prime minister Olof Palme even compared Israel’s policies to those of the Nazis. The left dominates the diplomatic corps, the Lutheran church, most newspapers and non-governmental organizations even though a center-right coalition narrowly holds power.

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt is mostly indifferent toward Israel, while Foreign Minister Carl Bildt (a former Moderate Party premier) is frequently antagonistic castigating every Israeli self-defense measures as counterproductive. In Istanbul, Bildt brazenly visited Swedish extremists who had taken part in the Turkish flotilla to Hamas-controlled Gaza. Sweden has also been an unhelpful voice against Israel in the EU, pushing for recognition of east Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. While the latest EU foreign minister's declaration did not -- as threatened -- give the Jewish state just a year to yield to Arab demands or face recognition of "Palestine" along the 1949 Armistice Lines, the tone of the announcement left little doubt which side the EU blamed for the current stalemate. Doubtlessly, Sweden would have been pushing for an even harder-line on Israel.

When in 2009, the country's largest tabloid Aftonbladet carried a contemptible calumny about Israeli soldiers harvesting the organs of Palestinian youths, the Sweden's political leaders obstinately refused to distance themselves from the accusations evoking the excuse of freedom of the press.

And what of the 15,000 Jews today living in the country? Those who are identifiably Jewish have not had an easy time due to anti-Semitism so prevalent among the 500,000 Muslims in the country (population 9 million). Approximately half of Swedish Muslims live in Stockholm with Malmö, in the south, one-quarter Muslim. Malmö's Social Democrat mayor Ilmar Reepalu insinuated that Jews deserved to be attacked for not distancing themselves from Israel. Many Jews have decided to abandon the city. And the Simon Wiesenthal Center has recommended Jews altogether avoid travel to Sweden.
Gerstenfeld goes so far as to argue that by opening its gates to a population coming from countries with discriminatory and anti-Semitic cultures, the Swedes have made an implicit decision to "promote" anti-Semitism.

Sweden has certainly embraced multiculturalism with gusto; critics scorn its immigration policy as suicidal. Stockholm is diplomatically predisposed to the Palestinian cause; domestically it has responded to violent Muslim anti-Semitism with appalling political correctness. What, then, could Sweden have possibly done to bring forth an Islamist suicide bombing?

Al-Abdaly's recording blamed the war in Afghanistan and a 2007 cartoon depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad as a dog. Is this credible? Sweden has a mere 500 soldiers in increasingly turbulent northern Afghanistan but they are involved mostly in reconstruction work and even training midwives. As for Lars Vilks, the Swedish artist, his caricatures in a regional newspaper were intended to protest widespread self-censorship that followed in the wake of the 2005 Muhammad cartoons published by a Danish newspaper.

More plausibly, Islamists will continue to strike at tolerant Sweden not in retribution for any particular "transgression," but simply because the "Land of the Midnight Sun" is part of the fabric of Western civilization.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ehud Barak in Washington

According to the 8 AM news on Reshet Bet, Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that without an agreement with the Palestinians, Israel’s position in the international community would deteriorate and that efforts to de-legitimize Israel’s existence will intensify.

This is news?

Barak is the grand chest master from Chelm.

He always manages to outmaneuver himself – tripping up even before he sets out.

His political and diplomatic ineptitude amazes given his early military career.

Obviously Barak is trying to placate the fading Labor Party about the stagnant "peace process."

Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (not a Barak enemy) has given PM Netanyahu a two-month window of opportunity to make "progress on the diplomatic front."

What is the point of putting pressure on your own side when the real obstacle continues to be Palestinian Arab intransigence? Why not give Mahmoud Abbas a two month window?

We Israelis know we need peace and acceptance. The Arabs do too.

That is why the Arabs won't give it to us.

Making it appear as if we are the ones holding things up -- something the world already believes either because of lack of understanding or something more sinister does not help.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

History Book Modern Israel

Short English-language histories of Israel are few and far between, and good ones even fewer and farther. For that reason the publication of Martin Van Creveld's The Land of Blood and Honey: The Rise of Modern Israel (St. Martin'; 320 pages) raised hopes that here at last, is the book to recommend to the person seeking a definitive, concise, sensibly compassionate and elegantly-written account of modern Israel.

Van Creveld is a Dutch-born professor emeritus of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem whose specialty is military strategy. In this book, one of 17 he has authored, he sets out to provide a "brief but comprehensive outline" of Israel with "a feel for what life is like" in "perhaps the greatest success story of the entire twentieth century." Blood and Honey is intended as a synthesis of what is already known.

Unfortunately, it also turns out to be a petulant, puzzling meditation, at times bragging of Israeli accomplishments, though just as often hammering away mercilessly at the country's imperfections. It employs odd nomenclature: Van Creveld is loath to use "Torah" or "Hebrew Bible" when "Old Testament" can serve his purposes; "the so-called First Migration" supplants the First Aliya; it's "Wailing Wall" not Western Wall. And, ad nauseam, it's the "occupied" West Bank -- never Judea and Samaria.

The narrative starts with "Forged in Fury," covering the period from the first Zionist Congress convened by Theodor Herzl in 1897 until the end of the War of Independence in 1949. Van Creveld accurately portrays pre-Zionist Palestine as a backwater lacking in infrastructure – no ports, roads or rail system. The British would remedy that. Under Ottoman rule the Arabs – there were no "Palestinians" at the time – were mostly illiterate while the indigent Jews, not permitted to purchase land, lived off charity supplied by their co-religionists abroad.

Political Zionism was spurred by the failure of Europe's Enlightenment to solve the Jewish question in the liberal West and by continued violent persecution in the reactionary East. The Zionists were divided between practical settlers eager to create facts on the ground and those, like Herzl, who wanted to first set the diplomatic stage for the Jews' return. Britain's Balfour Declaration offered the Jews a homeland though not a state. Soon Winston Churchill lopped off most of the Promised Land to create Transjordan. The Jewish Agency, meanwhile, provided the framework of a Zionist governing authority that would evolve into a state. In 1947, the Arabs rejected the creation of an Arab Palestine alongside a Jewish Israel and attacked. Though vastly outnumbered, the (now) Israelis were better organized and overcame the Arab onslaught. Still, a staggering one percent of Israel's population perished in the war. So far, so good.

In "Full Steam Ahead" Van Creveld covers the 1949-1967 period summarizing Israel's political system, taking the trouble to note that Israel's hyperactive high-court does not require a litigant to show they have any stake in a matter before filing suit. He maps out the ideological divide between the political parties, emphasizes the hegemony of David Ben-Gurion's Histadrut labor federation which both much of the means of production and represented the workers.

Van Creveld also sagaciously takes cognizance of an early dilemma still unresolved: Whether Israel was to be a Jewish state or simply a state of the Jews? Overcoming formidable obstacles, he tells us, Israel absorbed enormous numbers of Holocaust survivors and other immigrants. Youth movements were created in which, quite distinctively, young people not adults were mostly in charge. Van Creveld makes a strong case in support of Ben-Gurion wrenching decision to accept Holocaust reparations from West Germany. It proved essential to Israel's economic development. The chapter finishes with Van Creveld praising the sound of Israeli artillery retaliating against unprovoked Jordanian shelling of Jerusalem in June 1967 as "the sweetest" "he ever heard."

In "The Nightmare Years" Van Creveld speedily covers the 1967-1980 era which included the 1970 War of Attrition and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, noting Dayan's haunting warning that "the Third Temple [was] in danger." The war, writes Van Creveld, left Israel's economy devastated. Finally, he deplores the settlement of the West Bank though he documents the Arabs' rejection of peace, recognition and negotiations.
Throughout his, at times, awkward prose, Van Creveld uses flashes of color to great effect. Herzl, he records, received a 15-minute standing ovation at the First Congress. Chaim Weizmann was prescient in urging Zionists to be ready with their demands when the Great War ended.

"New Challenges" the chapter covering 1981-1995 bemoans the change in Israel's "ethnic make-up." Under growing Sephardi influence, the mores of the secular, socialist and Ashkenazi elite were being supplanted. Israel had become too nationalist, too Jewish, as exemplified by Likud premier Menachem Begin who -- gasp -- ate only kosher food "even in private."

Shimon Peres is rightly credited with saving the economy from hyperinflation. Van Creveld is enthusiastic about Israel's high-tech industry whose rise he properly credits to skills gained by its founders in the IDF. He absurdly reports the mind-boggling claim that Israelis prefer theater to soccer.

We learn that the first intifada broke out in December 1987 after a traffic accident in Gaza ignited rioting. At a time there were few IDF troops in the West Bank and Gaza. The "occupation," it seems, was rather unobtrusive. Van Creveld does not tell us that during the ensuing blood-letting more Palestinians were killed by their compatriots than by Israel. Later, he neglects to mention that five separate deadly terror attacks took place in the weeks preceding Baruch Goldstein's notorious massacre of Arabs in Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs.

Indeed, some readers will find Van Creveld tendency toward moral relativism, sophistry and even dubious history-telling off-putting. The 1929 Arab uprising was, we're told, preceded by mutual "bickering." At Deir Yassin, the Irgun "massacred about a hundred Arab civilians." Menachem Begin offers a very different and more convincing account in The Revolt. The only time Israel's survival was ever actually in jeopardy was during the 1948 War, Van Creveld claims. Adolph Eichmann "himself had never killed anybody." While Arab villages fit naturally into the terrain, Israeli towns look outlandishly European and out of place. The Chief Rabbinate's headquarters could have been designed by Albert Speer. Arab refugees sought to infiltrate the country's boundaries in the 1950s "in the absence of peace." The concept of "defensible" borders was "invented" by Yigal Allon. As president, Jimmy Carter was a real supporter of Israel. Jewish religious claims to the land are "pretty close" to racist. The image of Israelis in sealed rooms waiting out Iraqi missile attacks in the First Gulf War is "vastly exaggerated." And, today's Israeli children are "barred from the public sphere" a problem "imported from the United States."
In "Tragedy, Triumph, and Struggle," the final chapter, Van Creveld asserts that the 1993 Oslo Accords were "well worth making" and "certainly" did "nothing to harm Israel's security." Anyway, "if it did fail" the blame belongs equally to Israel and the Palestinians. Premier Ehud Barak's midnight withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000 (which may have set the stage for the second intifada and paved the way for Hezbollah's takeover of the south) is adjudged "a minor masterpiece." Ariel Sharon not Yasser Arafat was largely to blame for the outbreak of the second intifada. Arafat's rejection of Barak's Camp David offer was understandable "since Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem were to remain in Israeli hands." As prime minister during the second intifada, Sharon did not know how to cope. The number of Israeli casualties "was never very large" just over 1,100 dead, actually. Van Creveld allows that the security barrier was not a bad idea, but that constructing it beyond the Green Line was. Of course, Sharon's purpose was not to reward enemy violence and to take topography into account. Not one suicide bomber, writes Van Creveld, entered Israel from Gaza since disengagement. Not exactly. The Eilat bakery bombing occurred on January 29, 2007. The trauma suffered by the people of Sderot? Van Creveld claims that the IDF pullout from Gaza was unconnected to the increased bombardment of Israel's south.

There are a few Zionist heroes in Van Creveld's telling. Socialist David Ben-Gurion is described as a "tin-pot dictator. Remarkably, Ben-Gurion's nemesis, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, a liberal democrat and advocate of free enterprise, gets fair treatment. Ben-Gurion, we learn, referred to Jabotinsky's followers as "Jewish Nazis" and a "bubonic plague." Yet Van Creveld is perpetually disparaging of Menachem Begin. He was a "demagogue first and foremost" though Van Creveld undermines his own assertion by lauding Begin's decision not to retaliate against the Haganah's unprovoked attack (ordered by Ben-Gurion) on the Irgun arms-ship Altalena thereby avoiding a civil war; Begin's decision not to purge Laborites from positions of influence after his 1977 electoral victory showed him to be a true democrat, and his covert outreach to Anwar Sadat before the Egyptian president's historic journey to Jerusalem enabled peace with Egypt. Van Creveld does seem to have a soft spot for the "Russian-accented" Moshe Dayan. But only playwright Hanoh Levin emerges as a true Van Creveld idol. Levin's sour, nihilistic work, exposing Israelis' "unfathomable narrow-mindedness" is, we are told, popular all over the world.

In Van Creveld telling (though not Michael Oren's) then-U.S. defense secretary Robert McNamara belatedly gave Israel a green light to launch its preemptive attack in the 1967 War; Yitzhak Rabin got along famously with Gerald Ford. (Oren said they were an "infelicitous" pair.) Youth movements such as the Scouts are no longer popular (hardly true) except for B'nei Akiva, whose main task is (supposedly) to boost the "occupation." Begin is excoriated for calling Palestinian terrorists "two-legged beasts" however Van Creveld does not tell us the context: the killing of 18 Israelis by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command in Kiryat Shmona.

Van Creveld's characterization of the Kulturkampf between ultra-Orthodox and secular Israelis is not so much wrong as completely lacking in nuance. He pitilessly denigrates the observant as if all Sabbath observers are rock-throwing fanatics; he misses the heterogeneity among Israel's Orthodox. Other streams get no mention. A description of the overflowing Friday night services at the Reform movement's flagship synagogue in Jerusalem would have done wonders to round out the picture. Of course, he is right about the ultra-Orthodox stranglehold on a structurally dysfunctional political system. True ultra-Orthodox religious coercion has alienated many Israelis from Judaism. However, his passing remark that "but for Judaism" Israel's "raison d'être would disappear" does not salvage a chronically injudicious treatment of a very complex topic.

Considering this is a book published toward the end of 2010, it is odd that there is barely an allusion to Iran's nuclear threat; nary a reference to the Second Lebanon War; and scant mention of Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza. Debilitating political corruption is treated as a minor nuisance. Instead, of illuminating these topics, Van Creveld goes off on a meandering discussion of Israeli feminism that will leave some readers confused whether the author is a misogynist or a radical pro-feminist. Lurching to a conclusion, Van Creveld sums up that while Israel is not perfect, no country is. If so, why did the author allow so much bile to overshadow his narrative?

While bookshelves sag under the weight of pro-Arab and post-Zionist tomes, the wait for a succinct, definitive and stylishly-composed history of Israel will have to continue.


What then?

Here are several classic histories worth turning to...

The Siege by Conor Cruise O'Brien (1986)

Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert (updated in 2008)

A History of Modern Israel by Colin Shindler (2008)


Beyond WikiLeaks

The damaging drip-by-drip disclosures of sensitive American diplomatic communications by WikiLeaks have been receiving saturation media coverage. Too few are asking why Julian Assange's website is preoccupied with confidential American cables while displaying no interest in, say, Iranian secrets. Still, there is no denying that reading other peoples clandestine communications offers heretofore unavailable insights.

Jerusalem has long argued that Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons is not Israel's problem alone. That there was an enormous disconnect between what Arab leaders said publicly and what they said privately about Iran is no revelation. Yet the intensity and uniformity with which Arab leaders have been pleading with the Obama administration to “take out” Iran's nascent capacity is illuminating.

Firstly, it debunks malicious insinuations by the Walt, Mearsheimer, Brzezinski crowd that the "Israel lobby" has been perfidiously goading the U.S. into a war with Iran against Washington's own interests, one that would cripple America's standing with Arab "moderates." We now know that virtually every Arab leader from Lebanon to Bahrain had been exhorting the U.S. to strike at Iran.

Secondly, it exposes the duplicity of the Obama administration toward Jerusalem. The president's insistence that Israeli concessions to the Palestinian faction led by Mahmoud Abbas were a prerequisite for garnering Arab support against Iran has been shown to be plain dishonest. Barack Obama knew full well that America's Arab allies wanted Iran dealt with regardless of "progress" on the Palestinian-Israeli front, as Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post has pointed out. And yet Obama "continued to propagate what he must have known to be a falsehood" that lack of progress on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking was an obstacle to wide Arab backing on Iran. Obama chose to play the Iran card as a Machiavellian tactic against Israel.

In any event, the torrent of WikiLeaks revelations ought not to obscure what is really important beyond the obvious point that basically everyone in the Middle East agrees it would be catastrophic if Iran obtained the atom bomb. Is it not intriguing that Arab autocrats, presumably adept at manipulating public opinion to stay in power, have been so shy about trying to shape the views of the Arab street on Iran?

Why not let their people know that an imperial Iran threatens Sunni Arab interests?
On the Palestinian front, is it not equally interesting that Abbas often sounds conciliatory in closed door meetings with Israeli and American leaders but intransigent when publicly addressing his followers? Why would Abbas not want to prepare his Fatah faction, indeed all Palestinians for the absolute need to make concessions on refugees, land swaps and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state as the only way the conflict can be brought to an end?

Daoud Kuttab, an Amman-based Palestinian journalist maintains that Arab leaders do not actually depend on public opinion at all to retain power. They will seek regional and international alliances and do whatever it takes domestically to stay in power, but trying to change popular attitudes toward Israel or Iran would, if anything, be counterproductive. Indeed, scapegoating Israel for the failures of their regimes helps them stay in power, explains Professor Prof. Efraim Inbar of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

If anything says Danny Rubinstein, a veteran Israeli analyst of Arab affairs, Arab rulers are afraid of public opinion because they know what the masses really think of them. The Arab street admires leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for standing up against the West and Israel. The masses perceive their rulers are being propped up by the West. That is why any attempt by the autocrats to constructively realign perceptions on such core issues as Iran and Israel is simply too dangerous. For this reason, too, no amount of WikiLeaks exposure will impel Arab "moderates" to bring their public utterances and private stances into harmony.

The dysfunctional way in which ideologically indoctrinated Arab masses acquire their ideological orientations and their basic assumptions about political life has gravely warped Arab political culture. No wonder, then, that Israelis are dubious about the prospects of genuine peace with the Palestinians and apprehensive about the durability of existing peace treaties reached with unpopular autocrats.
The more profound lessons of the WikiLeaks revelations are sobering in ways, perhaps, unintended.


Thursday, December 09, 2010

Don't Apologize to Turkey

Don't Apologize to Turkey!

Word that Israel and Turkey are working out the nitty-gritty of an Israeli apology for having lawfully intercepted the Turkish ship bound for Hamas-controlled Gaza has many Israelis – me included -- befuddled.

Why would the Netanyahu government apologize for something the Turks need to apologize for?

Moreover, Israel has nothing to "regret" except that Turkey has shifted away from the West and embraced the Islamist camp. It really is too bad.

It was good of the Turks to send planes to help Israel fight the Carmel fires. I was caught by surprise. We have thanked them and we really do appreciate the assistance.
We would do the same for them.

But the Israeli soldier whose skull was cracked open by the "peace activists" aboard the ship is still not fully recovered. It is an insult to him and our troops sent to board the ship to apologize enforcing a necessary blockade against Gaza.

Don't do it PM Netanyahu. Don't apologize.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Latest Writings

Political Demography

The newly-released North American Jewish Data Bank's 2010 World Jewish Population Report, edited by professors Sergio DellaPergola, Arnold Dashefsky and Ira Sheskin has been making waves. Critics on the right are charging that in claiming a non-Jewish majority exists between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, the report is slanted and unduly pessimistic. Critics on the left in the Diaspora will complain that the authors were too "old school" in defining what Jewish means.

There are, says the report, about 13 million Jews in the world with the largest concentration (5.7 million), as determined by Orthodox standards of religious law, living in Israel. Of the Diaspora's 7.7 million, most (5,275,000) "core" Jews -- meaning people who identify themselves as Jews, or who are identified as Jews by those they residing with, and who have no other monotheistic religion -- live in the United States. Eighty-two percent of all Jews live in either Israel or the America. Other countries with 100,000 or more Jews are France (483,500), Canada (375,000), United Kingdom (292,000), Russian Federation, (205,000), Argentina (182,300), Germany (119,000) and Australia (107,500).

With the singular exception of Israel, Jewish fertility continued to be low, the population continued to age, intermarriage continued to increase, and relatively few children of intermarried couples were being raised as Jews, according to DellaPergola. Consider, too, that roughly 42% of all recently married Jews outside of Israel have married out.
Zionists take satisfaction that Israel is not only the center of Jewish civilization but has become home to the world's largest Jewish population. Israel’s 5,703,700 Jews when combined with 312,800 halakhically non-Jewish members of Jewish households (mostly from the former Soviet Union) forms a combined population of 6 million. More Jews now live in Greater Tel Aviv than in Metro New York.

What worries many Zionists however is Israel's shrinking Jewish majority. The number of Arabs in pre-1967 Israel is 1,238,000. The combined Jewish and Arab population in sovereign Israel plus the West Bank and Gaza is 11,222,100 leaving the total core Jewish population between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River at just 50.8%; 49.8% counting 222,000 foreign workers. If the non-halakhically Jewish population is counted, the Jewish percentage climbs to 53.6 of the total in Israel and the territories; 58.5% after subtracting Gaza.

No matter how the data is juggled, insists DellaPergola, "The Jewish majority is constantly decreasing — if extant at all — over the whole territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and more particularly within the State of Israel."

DellaPergola has been challenged in the past for taking census numbers from the Palestinian Authority at face value. He has strongly defended the integrity of his data, though in this report DellaPergola appears to acknowledge that Palestinian figures had originally been "overestimated." Nevertheless, he concludes that the Palestinian Arab population in January 2010 stood at 3,670,000 about 2,200,000 in Judea and Samaria and 1,470,000 in Gaza. At the same time, he acknowledges that the Arab birthrate inside Israel proper and in the West Bank is slowly decreasing.

To complicate matters, not all of the halakhically Jewish numbers can necessarily be counted on by the Zionist enterprise. The ultra-Orthodox comprise about 8.5 percent of Israel's total population and are projected to grow to 17.5 percent within two decades. By 2020, 60% of Israeli youths eligible to serve in the IDF will be sitting on the sidelines because of draft exemptions granted to ultra-Orthodox youth.

Population surveys are intrinsically political documents. Experts with agendas will clash over methodology, data collection, definitions and interpretation. Diaspora liberals will lobby for a more "inclusive" criteria in defining Jews and a rosier interpretation of the Jewish predicament. DellaPergola admits that the U.S. Jewish population would jump to at least 6.7 million if the non-halachic criteria for defining Jews under Israel's Law of Return were applied in the American setting. Dismissing evidence to the contrary as tendentious, DellaPergola's Israeli critics and their American allies will argue that talk of Arabs outnumbering Jews is alarmist, that in any case, Israel's political system can be tweaked so that even an outsized Arab minority would be neither disenfranchised nor dominant.

On one point there is no dispute: DellaPergola's figures generate such visceral reactions because at stake is nothing less than Jewish continuity in the Diaspora and sovereignty in Israel.

Islam and Interfaith Relations

Old-fashioned anti-Semitism needs to be factored into the equation if Westerners are to comprehend the zero-sum nature of the Arab-Israel conflict. But the good news out of an ecumenical conclave held in the House of Lords [November 23] by the Children of Abraham organization and a British affiliate of Cairo's Al Azhar University is that a long-standing ban on Muslim-Jewish interfaith relations has been lifted. The fly in the ointment is that the decision did not explicitly mention Judaism by name. A spokesman for London-based Grand Mufti Sheikh Fawzi Al-Zifzaf, who drafted the ruling, explained that "the people who have taken the document forward have done so at great risk." No doubt.

A recent BBC Panorama program revealed that even today certain Muslim parochial schools providing part-time instruction to 5,000 children at 40 different locations in the UK have been using a curriculum of hate supplied by Saudi Arabia that among other things refer to Jews as looking like "monkeys and pigs." Pupils are further taught that Jews seek world domination. The Saudi ambassador in the U.S. reportedly told a Children of Abraham official that the texts did not truly represent the values of his country. Of course, youngsters educated outside the West, especially in fanatical Islamist regimes, are at even greater risk of being inculcated into the oldest hatred.

Speaking on his movement's Gaza-based television station recently [November 5] senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar offered viewers a twisted capsule history of the Jews from Pharaonic times to medieval Europe in order to demonstrate that anti-Semitism was the fault of the Jews themselves. Jews have faced a series of expulsions Zahar lectured, for sucking the blood of, and stealing from, non-Jews. One day, he declared, the Jews would be expelled "from the entire territory of Palestine, Allah willing." He cited the Koran as justifying the murder of Jews and to reiterate a recurring genocidal theme, developed in his [2008] book, that the Jewish people had “no future between nations." There is no place for Jews anywhere in the Middle East, he said. "You are about to disappear." As a founding leader of Hamas and its former foreign minister, Zahar is merely mirroring the visceral Jew-hatred manifested in the movement's 1988 charter.

Plainly, Hamas's problem with a Jewish state is not rooted in politics, but in religious chauvinism. In more genteel form the comparatively moderate Palestinian camp headed by Mahmoud Abbas is no less invested in invalidating Jewish rights. Take a new study carried out on behalf of the Palestinian Authority which found that Jewish people have no authentic connection to the Western Wall. That makes Jews interlopers in the Mideast. No wonder that a recent poll conducted for The Israel Project found sixty percent of Palestinian Arabs felt that a "two state solution" should be a precursor to the phased destruction of Israel. A Pew survey earlier this year found more than 90% of Egyptians, Jordanians, Lebanese and Palestinians held hateful views toward Jews, while even 74% of non-Arab Muslims in Indonesia were hostile. Antagonism toward Jews is so widespread that one London newspaper eulogized Al-Azhar's Sheikh Mohammed Sayyid Tantawi who died in March, for his moderation – he had denounced the 9/11 attacks -- his description of Jews as "enemies of Allah" and "descendants of apes and pigs" notwithstanding.

Apologists for Muslim anti-Semitism argue that Islamic attitudes toward Jews had been benign even tolerant until the establishment of modern Israel – the Zionists' "original sin." In fact, the Jewish condition under Muslim rule ranged from one of peaceful inferiority to that of persecution and humiliation, in the assessment of Bernard Lewis's The Jews of Islam. Martin Gilbert has recently provided fresh historical evidence for Lewis's appraisal. Islamic civilization assigned Jews an institutionally inferior societal place as dhimmis and the Koran makes a number of disparaging references to Jews (though also a few positive ones).

It would be comforting to think that contemporary Muslim civilization is at least grappling with how to relate to Jews outside the framework of dhimmitude. If only the laudable, albeit, faint efforts of a relatively unknown Grand Mufti in Britain to explore a new relationship were not held in contempt by Islam's more influential holy men such as Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi whose broadcast on Al Jazeera, reach 40 million believers worldwide and who takes pride in boycotting interfaith conferences with Jews.

Referendum for Peace

Britons will be holding a national referendum early next year on electoral reform. The Arab League is supporting a referendum in war torn Sudan over independence for the south. When the Turkish parliament failed to amend the constitution by a sufficient majority the nation held a referendum in September to do so. And while the United States does not hold national referendums state "propositions" are not uncommon.

Yet the 65-33 vote in Israel's Knesset [on Monday, November 24] to require a referendum before ceding east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights or any other part of sovereign Israel should a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority or Syria be struck has kicked up a ruckus. The plebiscite would be held if the government was unable to muster 80 of parliament's 120 lawmakers to approve a withdrawal. In promoting the referendum, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued that it would prevent an irresponsible agreement, while facilitating strong public backing for one that satisfied Israel's national interests.

Arab reaction has been unenthusiastic. The Syrian Foreign Ministry found the law to be further proof that Israel was not interested in peace. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that "ending the occupation" could not be put to a referendum. A curious stance in that Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly raised the possibility of a Palestinian referendum and been lauded for doing so by Arabists in the American foreign policy community.

Israeli reactions have run along political lines. Both left and right saw passage as an impediment to the emergence of a Palestinian state. Technically, no referendum would be required for a West Bank pullback since Judea and Samaria have never been annexed to Israel. But settler leaders said the law was "very good news" in that any deal would likely be linked to land swaps in sovereign Israel. Haaretz editorialized that the law spit in the face of the international community. Peace Now threatened to challenge the constitutionality of the law. Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and 15 of her 28-member faction voted against the bill; Shaul Mofaz, who has announced plans to unseat her, was joined by 11 other party lawmakers in being conspicuously absent. Kadima's Otniel Schneller and Eli Aflalo voted for the bill. Labor leader Ehud Barak issued a strong statement against the bill, but also absented himself rather than vote with most of his faction against it. Likud, Yisrael Beitenu, Shas, and Habayit Hayehudi voted unanimously in favor; Meretz and the Arab parties voted unanimously against. The left's opposition is also somewhat curious in that it was Yitzhak Rabin who first raised the idea of a withdrawal referendum.

Whether referendums are generally a good idea is a matter for debate. They certainly provide the demos (people) kratos (rule) – direct power to legislate without intermediaries. America's political system is, of course, designed to keep unrefined power out of the hands of the masses for fear of the tyranny of the majority. Authoritarian leaders have been known to conduct and manipulate referendums to solidify their power. For example, in 1979 Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini legitimized the establishment of Iran's imperial theocracy by holding a popular plebiscite.

What does the referendum decision signify in the Israeli instance? Whether to withdraw to something approximating the 1949 Armistice Lines in exchange for an Arab commitment of, at best, a cold peace presents Israelis with an immense dilemma. Such boundaries would be very hard to defend especially if the West Bank falls to Hamas. A pullout ratified by a razor thin Knesset majority lubricated by political horse-trading would lack legitimacy and tear the fabric of Israel's society asunder. It's happened in the past: The 1993 Oslo Accords were approved with 61 MKs in favor 50 against and 8 abstentions. Oslo II, a follow-up agreement, passed 61-59 only after three neophyte opposition members were enticed to join Rabin's government in exchange for patronage appointments.

Of course, a referendum would be less imperative were Israel's political system less dysfunctional (all major parties agree on the need for fundamental electoral reform). Netanyahu, who was opposition leader at the time Rabin railroaded Oslo through the Knesset, clearly recognizes that any deal he signs with the Palestinians or Syrians would equally lack authenticity unless it achieved massive Knesset backing or popular support in a referendum.

For all the hoopla raised by the referendum law the reality is that Abbas still refuses to return to the negotiating table and Hamas makes no pretense about wanting peace altogether. The role Israeli Arabs (20 percent of the population) would have in a referendum is unclear. Israel's High Court could still decide that the referendum is unconstitutional. And of course, the Knesset could vote at anytime repeal to repeal the law by a simple majority. In short, champions of peace have little to fear and much to embrace in this law.

Gas Cornucopia

The blessing for the Promised Land was that it would flow with milk and honey, not abundant rainfall or copious petro-carbon deposits. Fortunately, within the next several years a series of desalination plants will help alleviate Israel's chronic water shortage while continued exploitation of off-shore gas fields should make the Jewish state energy independent – and more.

Since 2004, Israel has been tapping billions of cubic meters of gas from two deep-sea fields, Mari-B and Marine, just off its southern coast. But it is the still untapped fields off the country's northern coast, and so deep below the Mediterranean that robots will be needed to exploit them, that has truly captured the Israeli imagination. Leviathan, which is far out to sea, could come on-line in 2016, though Tamar and Dalit, smaller fields closer to the coast, could begin production in 2014.

These subterranean gas deposits have the potential of transforming Israel from a country completely dependent on foreign energy sources to a major global energy supplier. An Israeli pipeline could run via Cyprus to Greece providing Europe with gas for its winters and lessening the continent's dependency on Russia. Israeli liquefied gas could be shipped to India and China making them less dependent on Iran. At home, electrical plants could be retooled to operate on gas; electric (or hybrid) cars might supplant those running exclusively on petrol.

For now, however, Israel still imports $2 billion worth of gas annually from a privately owned Egyptian company. Coal needs to be imported to generate electricity; and petroleum is purchased on the world market. Until the mullahs came to power in 1979, Israel enjoyed a reliable supply of Iranian oil. Later, the Alma oil field in the Sinai, discovered and developed by Israel, could have provided energy independence, but was given up in the 1982 peace treaty with Egypt. Fortunately, most Israeli households use solar power to heat water.
Israel's foes have reacted predictably to its off-shore gas finds. Hezbollah, the hegemon of Lebanon, has been making threatening noises about the northern fields, while Palestinian advocates have claimed the southern fields as the patrimony of Hamas-dominated Gaza.
For Israel, striking gas is like winning the lottery – attendant with political, social and economic opportunities as well as pitfalls. The Tel Aviv stock market reacted euphorically as investors pondered the fortunes to be made. That led to a massive debate about who actually owned the gas cornucopia, the consortium of Israeli and American partners spearheaded by Yitzhak Teshuva who risked their capital (on searches that had for decades proved futile), or the "people." Back in 1952 the Knesset had legislated royalties of 12.5% on mining. The American government has been assessing royalties of 18.75% on off-shore oil and gas; in Norway the government takes a whopping 67 percent. Social campaigners demanded that the royalties be drastically hiked. Free marketers complained it was unfair to retroactively change the rules.

To sort out the division of spoils the Netanyahu government appointed a committee headed by economist Eytan Sheshinski. After seven months, and without inviting Teshuva to present his case, his panel decided that royalties should stay at 12.5%; that the tax exemption depletion allowance should be abolished; and that profits should not be taxed until investors had recovered 150% of their outlays.
These recommendations, which await a public hearing, cabinet debate and Knesset approval, have been lauded across the political spectrum from Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer to Labor's Shelly Yachimovich, a neo-socialist. So far Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party has been most vocal in expressing concern that the recommendations may discourage future energy exploration.

Even if a formula can be found that balances the rational need to provide incentives for entrepreneurs with the desires of ordinary citizens to benefit from the gas windfall there is still the question of precisely what the state will do with the money. Former Knesset member Michael Melchior has been lobbying for the revenues be channeled into a sovereign fund invested and earmarked to enhance the country's human potential. Anything would be better than dumping it into the general budget. There is, fortunately, time for considered judgment. Revenues from the northern fields will not begin flowing into the state's coffers for another 8-15 years, at the earliest.

Kadima in the Wings

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's apparent about-face capitulation to Obama administration pressure for an extension of the moratorium on West Bank settlement construction has resulted in roiling dissension within his Likud party and a sense of déjà vu. The possibility of another split within the party cannot be discounted.

The previous Likud schism occurred in November 2005 when Ariel Sharon founded the Kadima party as a political workaround after Likud members rejected his plan for a unilateral pullout from Gaza. After Sharon became incapacitated by a stroke, Ehud Olmert led Kadima in winning the 2006 elections by campaigning for a further unilateral separation this time from the Palestinians in the West Bank. However, aggression from Gaza and Lebanon (where Israel had in 2000 unilaterally withdrawn from a security zone) undermined the attraction of unilateralism and the policy was discarded.

Curiously, despite having lost its charismatic founder in Sharon and philosophical underpinning – unilateralism – the party has consolidated itself as a viable "third- way" alignment of pragmatists; basically a vehicle for running for office that has attracted politicians from Likud, Labor and beyond. Its Knesset line-up includes a West Bank settler and a Peace Now proponent. The New York Times has variously called Kadima "center-right" and "center-left."

It is widely understood that President Barack Obama would have preferred Israel's 2009 elections to have resulted in a Kadima-led government with Tzipi Livni (formerly of the Likud) at the helm. Washington is reportedly pressing Netanyahu to jettison right-wing coalition partners Yisrael Beitenu and Habayit Hayehudi and replace them with Kadima. This would presumably make Israel's negotiating stance more malleable. The flaw with this line of reasoning is that the previous Kadima government led by Olmert and Livni failed to close a deal with the Palestinian faction led by Mahmoud Abbas despite offering unprecedented territorial concessions on the grounds these were still insufficient.

What now for Kadima? Unlike other third-way parties that have come and gone, Kadima has demonstrated remarkable staying power. Partly this is because its leaders are no political novices, but in addition Kadima's arrival on the scene coincided with the evolution of a post-second intifada Israeli consensus that ending the conflict with the Palestinian Arabs was a vital national interest even if it resulted in the establishment of a "Palestine" alongside Israel.

Livni as opposition leader though photogenic has not emerged as a strong presence, furthering a reputation for indecisiveness established when she repeatedly hesitated to call for Olmert's resignation while he was enmeshed in a series of scandals and discredited by his handling of the Second Lebanon War. She also failed to form a government though Kadima won one more seat than Likud in the past election. And in a recent Knesset speech Livni took Netanyahu to task for his craven patronage of the ultra-Orthodox parties, only to have a haredi leader produce a draft agreement showing she had been equally ready to kowtow to their demands.

Livni is now being challenged by Shaul Mofaz, a former top general, whom she barely defeated for the party leadership in 2008. While her reputation for integrity is not an issue, Kadima is hardly a bastion of good-government reformists. Sharon had been investigated for wrongdoing on multiple occasions; Olmert is now on trial for corruption; policy chairman Haim Ramon was convicted of indecent behavior; Avraham Hirchson, a finance minister, went to prison for corruption. And in the latest incident, Tzahi Hanegbi, a party powerbroker, was forced to quit the Knesset this month having being found guilty of moral turpitude.

In spite of all this and the failure to articulate a coherent platform to replace unilateralism, Kadima and Likud continue to run neck and neck in public opinion surveys. Livni's confidantes have accused Netanyahu of spreading false rumors that Kadima is poised to join a unity government. She said that would not happen until Netanyahu accepted her conditions, though these have never been enunciated with much specificity. Still, Livni has pledged to give Netanyahu a political safety net if he goes ahead and extends the settlement freeze.

Strangely enough, Kadima's political nimbleness makes it attractive for disgruntled voters from left, center and right. Its success reflects the diminished expectations Israelis have of their elected officials. Ideological consistency, adherence to solemn campaign pledges, upstanding ethical behavior, even leadership excellence is no longer paramount. What seems to matter most is Kadima's ability to offer "pragmatism" -- whatever that may mean at any particular time.

The Brothers Lurk

November is a time for elections not just in the United States but also in Jordan and Egypt. Jordanians voted on November 9 to overwhelmingly fill the Chamber of Deputies with loyalists of King Abdullah II. Egyptians will go to the polls on November 28 to elect the People’s Assembly and there is little doubt that Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party will remain in control. As a result of short-sighted policies that have sidelined comparatively liberal reformist elements, the only viable opposition the Abdullah and Mubarak dynasties face comes from the benighted Moslem Brotherhood whose role in politics is severely restricted. Both leaders are mindful that Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the brotherhood, won 58% of the vote in free 2006 Palestinian Authority elections.

Founded in Egypt by Hasan al-Banna in 1928, the brotherhood preaches pan-Islam, a worldwide Caliphate, the application of Sharia law to daily life and politics and – jihad. In 1950s and 60s Sayyid Qutb fine-tuned the brotherhood's Sunni ideology to emphasize opposition to Western values. Naturally, anti-Zionism has been integral to the movement since the 1930s and remains a rallying cry.

The 21st century brotherhood aims for a legitimate persona, playing down calls to violence and dissociating from the movement's most infamous devotees, al-Qaida's Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin-Laden. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood while frank about Sharia law insists that "under current circumstances" it has no ambitions to rule the country.

On Election Day in Jordan, a national holiday, candidate posters were plastered around providing the facade of widespread political activity. Jordanian authorities in point of fact encouraged brotherhood candidates to participate. But the Islamic Action Front, the local brotherhood affiliate, declared an election boycott on the grounds that new rules favoring directly elected candidates over blocs and freshly gerrymandered districts limited the movement's electoral possibilities. Violence was low. Authorities welcomed outside election observers. Turnout was a credible 53 percent nationally though much lower in urban and heavily Palestinian areas that are brotherhood strongholds. The only missing elements were a genuine opposition and the prospect that the newly-elected parliament could exercise authority independent of the monarchy.

Despite facing internal censure a single brotherhood contender ignored the boycott to run and win. Notably, candidates across the political spectrum campaigned against the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace treaty and in support of resistance to "the Zionist entity." Jordan, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza comprise the original British Mandate for Palestine and most Jordanians are Palestinian Arabs. The king's backing comes mostly from tribal elements in the hinterlands.

In Egypt the brotherhood prefers participation to boycott. Independent candidates tied to the brotherhood have successfully filed paperwork to contest thirty percent of the seats in the assembly. In contrast to Jordan's more subtle strategy to the challenge posed by the brotherhood, Egyptian authorities have incarcerated brotherhood leaders and unleashed their heavies to beat-up brotherhood activists as they hang campaign posters. Foreign monitoring of the Egyptian polling will not be tolerated. This year, however, the ruling party is allowing intramural contests for the same constituency to create a semblance of competition. Despite similar obstacles in 2005, the brotherhood managed to capture 20 percent of the legislature.

Egypt's brotherhood has not been shy in playing the Israel card. Members have gotten themselves arrested in Port Said protesting Cairo's complicity in the quarantine of Hamas-controlled Gaza. Equally important, in both Egypt and Jordan the brotherhood mines for support among the great masses of economically downtrodden.

Neither regime appears in imminent danger of being destabilized by the brotherhood. At the same time, it is the pragmatism and patience of the Islamists that is most disquieting. One manifestation of its common sense approach: Islamist ecumenism best reflected in Hamas's theological justification for a Sunni-Shi'ite axis and alliance with Iran. Far from treating the Shi'ite Persian regime as schismatic, the Palestinian brothers have been emphasizing that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had himself translated the writings of Qutb into Persian.

What does all this mean? Unless Mideast autocrats can find the way and the wisdom to foster political institution-building, genuine republican government, and empower reformist elements prepared to reach an accommodation with modernity, sooner or later the fanatics will come to power. For Israel it would be preferable to face hard-hearted reformists across the bargaining table than jihadist across the battlefield. The other implication is that Iranian imperial ambitions, now dangerously melding with those of the brotherhood, need to be thwarted by the civilized world sooner rather than later.

Artful boycott

With the cocktail hour over the audience settled into their plush chairs to enjoy a performance of the musical Piaf inaugurating the new cultural center in Ariel earlier this month [November 8]. This was no ordinary opening night however, because in a move that ignited a political firestorm in Israel, some of the country's top artists and intellectuals had signed a petition pledging to boycott the center because it is located in the West Bank 25 miles east of Tel Aviv.

The big name boycotters included novelists David Grossman, A. B. Yehoshua, Amos Oz, and Aharon Appelfeld, celebrated actress Hanna Maron, Batsheva dance company choreographer Ohad Naharin and film director Eytan Fox of Yossi & Jagger fame. They had all signed a statement terming Ariel "an illegal settlement" whose existence made peace impossible and fostered "apartheid."

Though the big names drew media coverage, the campaign was actually spearheaded by the minor playwright Vardit Shalfi. Her goal, she said, was to raise questions about "the legitimacy of the settlements." Shalfi told an interviewer that she would never set foot in Ariel though she would have no compunctions about appearing at a Jenin theater operated by a former Palestinian gunman. Why? One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, she explained.

The campaign quickly drew the support of radical academics such as Ben-Gurion University's Neve Gordon, an advocate of the international campaign of boycott and divestment of Israel. Indeed, the Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel encouraged the Ariel boycotters while the San Francisco-based Jewish Voice for Peace jumped on the bandwagon by soliciting supporting signatures of stalwart Israel-bashers Ed Asner, Venessa Redgrave and Tony Kushner.

While it's no secret where Israel's arts community leans politically it is doubtful the big names on the Zionist left would be comfortable shunning Ariel in the company of the Jewish Voice for Peace crowd which cannot bring itself to support Israel's existence within any boundaries. For even more extreme advocates of the Arab cause the Ariel boycott is "bogus" because the "focus on settlements" obscures the "complicity" of all "Israeli academic and cultural institutions" in a system of "colonial control and apartheid" endured by the endlessly suffering Palestinians.
Predictably, given negligible support for a settlement boycott among mainstream Israelis, Shalfi's campaign raised as much debate about the role of artists in society as it did about settlements. Culture minister Limor Livnat has announced plans for a new prize to be awarded for Zionist contributions to art. And some Knesset members have threatened legislation that would withhold state financing of projects associated with the boycotters. To which Yossi Beilin, a leading proponent of the "peace process," retorted that in a democracy artists deserved the largesse of government even when they expressed unpopular views.

Why launch the boycott now? The impending completion of the cultural center was one obvious reason. Moreover, settlement opponents find places such as Ariel (and Ma'ale Adummim, outside Jerusalem) particularly vexing. With a mixed secular-Orthodox population of 20,000, plus an additional 10,000 students including Arabs enrolled in the town's college, Ariel is not easily denigrated as far away, alien and inhabited by settler crazies. Indeed, its strategic location means that Israel would likely push hard to retain the town in any peace treaty. Thus the boycotter's aim was to chip away at Ariel's image as part of normative Israel.

With the left-in-politics unpopular, fragmented, leaderless and out of ideas, its prospects for a return to governmental power next to nil, settlement opponents sought to exert their influence via a sector of Israel's population seemingly impervious to the slings and arrows wrought by Palestinian intransigence.

Indeed, while the Ariel boycott kerfuffle raised tempers within the Israeli body politic it seemed almost beside the point in the larger scheme of things. Top Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar this week reiterated that for his organization settlements were hardly the issue. The Palestinian goal, he declared, must be the expulsion of the Jews from all the land. Meanwhile, the comparatively moderate Palestinian faction headed by Mahmoud Abbas again insisted that the Palestinians would never abandon their demand for the "right" of millions of Arab refugees and their descendants to "return" to the pre-1967 boundaries of Israel nor would they ever recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

The reason the curtain has come down on the boycotters is that ordinary Israelis simply don't accept the premise that Ariel – and settlements like it – are what's really keeping the Palestinians from making peace.

What's not Right

The twenty-five Jewish fanatics who last month paraded provocatively in the Israeli Arab town of Umm al-Fahm have been described as "right wing activists" and "far-right Israelis." Yet where – or whether – they belong on the Zionist political spectrum is not clear.

In pre-State days, the right embodied in the Jabotinsky movement was defined by its loyalty to Eretz Israel – as defined in the British Mandate for Palestine – and rooted Jewish civilizational values and nationalism. The movement has been unenthusiastic but not unwilling to sacrifice parts of the Jewish heartland for an accommodation with the Arabs.

In 1982 Menachem Begin withdrew from Sinai for a peace treaty with Egypt; in 2005 Ariel Sharon unilaterally pulled back from Gaza; and in his seminal 2009 Bar-Ilan speech Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel did not want to rule over the Palestinian Arabs in Judea and Samaria.

Why the break with Jabotinsky's original doctrine? Until 1977 the right-wing never led an Israeli government and enjoyed the luxury of ideologically purity. But as Sharon told intimates when he became the country's top decision maker, there are "things you see from here that you don't see from there." Such as the troubling demographic balance of Arabs and Jews west of the River Jordan; Israel's deepening diplomatic isolation; the emphatic need for foreign support in overcoming the existential threats posed by Iran and, not least, healing the deep cleavages within

Israel's body politic over the settlement enterprise. As the Jabotinsky right, founded, after all, by a 19th century classical liberal, was pulled toward pragmatism the political vacuum this created was filled largely by fervently Orthodox supporters of the slain Rabbi Meir Kahane. The youthful Kahane had begun his activism as a member of the Jabotinsky youth movement Betar. However, rigorous Orthodoxy and Zionist nationalism were never a natural fit. Many ultra-Orthodox Jews were and remain either non-Zionist or fervently anti-Zionist. The modern Orthodox were open to Zionism yet many of their old guard, such as Haim-Moshe Shapira, were unenthusiastic about settling the West Bank when the opportunity presented itself after the 1967 Six Day War.

When the U.S. born, originally modern Orthodox, Kahane moved to Israel in the early 1970s he sought an ideological home in the Jabotinsky camp led by Menachem Begin. When Begin declined Kahane formed the Kach party and ultimately won a single seat in the 1984 Knesset elections.

Kahane, whose platform called for the expulsion of the Arabs from Israel, charged Baruch Marzal, his parliamentary aide, with drawing ultra-Orthodox elements into his movement. Marzel's efforts helped spawn a novel messianic apocalyptic political concoction. Where left and right-wing Zionists historically saw the state as an instrument of Jewish self-determination, Kahaneists see it as an obstacle to the establishment of an anti-modern theocratic Jewish commonwealth. Thus what places Kahaneists outside the standard Zionist framework is not the vehemence with which they oppose government policy but their commitment to regime change.

Like all political movements, Kahaneists are not monolithic. Moshe Feiglin prefers working peacefully within the establishment in the belief that the Israeli electorate can be persuaded to embrace regime change if the impetus comes from within the Likud party. Daniella Weiss, on the other hand, has become an organizer of the "hilltop youth" some of whom have bizarrely embraced the anthem of the virulently anti-state Satmar hassidic sect.

In the Knesset, Kahane's legacy is carried forward singly by Michael Ben Ari of the Ichud Leumi. The splinter party's three other parliamentarians are not Kahaneists. How many of Ichud Leumi's 112,570 votes can be credited to Ben Ari is impossible to gauge. But in 2006 when Marzel himself ran unsuccessfully for the Knesset he garnered 25,000 votes.

Other right-wing Knesset parties including the modern Orthodox Habayit Hayehudi and the largely secular Russian Yisrael Beitenu stuck with Netanyahu after his Bar-Ilan address. Neither has much use for the Kahaneists. Habayit Hayehudi has attacked Marzel for "desecrating religious Zionism" while Marzel and Lieberman hold each other in disdain. Settler elder Elyakim Haetzni has condemned the kind of violence associated with the Kahaneists.

Today's Zionist right is hawkish on security issues, steadfastly opposes a return to the 1949 Armistice Lines and is dubious about Palestinian intentions. In contrast, those who would upend rather than reform Israel's dysfunctional political system, oppose territorial concessions on the basis of God's will, are violence-prone and seek to supplant modern Israel with a theocracy fit elsewhere on Israel's political spectrum.

Monday, November 08, 2010


I see that Oxfam which, I believe, was once a non-partisan charity and somehow evolved into another British/Euro-Left battering ram against Israel now accepts that it has a problem with the Jewish community.

Oxfam has now gone into collaboration with the Reform Movement in Israel on a joint anti-poverty project in the Jewish state.

Personally, I would not let Oxfam off the hook so easily, and it is unfortunate that the Reform Movement is a party to this effort.

Oxfam needs to do more than sanitize its image. It needs to do some soul-searching.

The Next UN Security Council

Israelis are not alone in rolling their eyes at the mere mention of the United Nations. Thanks to blocs of like-minded nations with interlocking leaderships and overlapping interests—the 53-member African Union, the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, the 118-member "non-aligned" movement—an anti-Western and anti-Zionist tyranny of the majority has long been assured.

That's in the General Assembly. What about the 15-member Security Council, which has both more power and greater legitimacy than other UN bodies? In the Council's early years, when the democracies led by the United States presented a formidable front, most of the vetoes were cast by Soviet Russia. Since the 1980s, the U.S. has had to be the major exerciser of the veto, blocking, among other things, dozens of one-sided anti-Israel resolutions.
And, in the short to medium term, things can only get worse. The Council now has five veto-wielding permanent members: China, France, Russia, Britain, and the U.S. The other ten, enjoying two-year terms, are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon, and Nigeria plus the newly elected Colombia, Germany, India, Portugal, and South Africa, whose term begins in January 2011.

Of these ten, India, Brazil, and South Africa already exercise global influence, and can be expected to join China and Russia in shilling for Iran in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The three will likely also form a potent anti-American bloc of their own on the new Council. Last year, for example, only 11 percent of India's votes in the General Assembly lined up with Washington. Sixty-seven percent of South Africa's were on the opposite side. On thirteen issues identified by the State Department as "important," Brazil stood with the U.S. a total of three times. Among the other new non-permanent members, Gabon, a serial abuser of human rights, has made it a point almost never to vote with Washington.

And the Europeans? The U.S. can usually count on France, Britain, and Germany for support—except when it comes to Israel. At that point London and Paris invariably break away to take the Arab side or to abstain. The Germans, for their part, will invariably go along with the EU "consensus," at Israel's expense. Portugal's support of the Arab line on the notorious Goldstone Report probably helped it secure its new Council seat. Canada, by contrast, seems to have lost its bid precisely on account of its principled pro-Israel position.

This, then, is the environment in which the Council will monitor the ongoing Hizballah putsch in Lebanon and Hamas aggression from Gaza and, should it come to pass, consider the issue of a Palestinian unilateral declaration of statehood. South Africa has already declared that "the Security Council has to shoulder its responsibility for ending the Israeli occupation and [for] ensuring [that] the Palestinian people's right to self-determination is met." In a worst-case scenario, the Council could recognize the West Bank and Gaza, demarcated along the 1949 armistice lines, as "Palestine."

Prospects might appear less bleak if Israel held a Security Council seat of its own, which would enable it to participate in decisive closed-door deliberations. But, of the 192-member UN, only the Jewish state is ineligible to serve on the Council—because the Arabs will not allow it to join the regional group that is a steppingstone to Council membership. This state of affairs could become exponentially worse if decades-long efforts to enlarge the Council gain headway and result in a further dilution of Washington's ability to counter the UN's tyrannical majority. Promoting just such "structural reform" is one of India's announced priorities.

What about Jerusalem's ability to rely on Washington to defend its vital interests? Unfairly or not, worries on this score, too, are now being voiced, especially by those concerned lest the U.S. decide not to veto a declaration of unilateral Palestinian statehood. Such concerns serve further to underline the dramatic degree to which the world has changed since the victorious World War II leaders created the architecture of the Security Council. Never has the need been greater for a self-confident United States to dispel the fog of uncertainty and to spearhead the cause of nations sincerely opposed to the scourge of war and genuinely committed to human rights, social progress, and freedom.

--Nov. 2010

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Guaranteed in America

Why should the Netanyahu government place any faith in the incentives offered by President Barack Obama in return for an extension of the moratorium on settlement construction? So grumble some Israelis, pointing for added emphasis to Obama's refusal to honor an earlier, Bush-administration pledge to Ariel Sharon. For these Israelis, such backtracking is another indication that Obama has broken with precedent and is bent on significantly shifting longstanding American practice toward Israel.

But what if the president is only following longstanding practice? As it happens, principles enunciated by one American president have regularly been ignored or silently repudiated by his successor, and some presidential commitments have enjoyed an even shorter shelf life than the one to which disillusioned Israelis now point.
Take the issue of borders. "It is clear that a return to the situation of June 4, 1967, will not bring peace," President Lyndon B. Johnson affirmed in a statement shortly after the Six Day war. Yet when the Nixon administration came into office in January 1969, Secretary of State William Rogers sounded quite a different note, insisting that "any changes in the [pre-war] lines should not reflect the weight of [Israeli] conquest."

Or take Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's 1975 promise that the U.S. would not negotiate with the PLO so long as that organization did not recognize Israel's right to exist. Two years later, the Carter administration came into office keen to open a dialogue with the PLO, and almost immediately began doing so through intermediaries. In 1978, Carter recognized "the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people" and authorized the PLO to operate an information office in Washington. His ambassador to Lebanon reportedly met with Yasir Arafat, and his representative to the UN was forced to resign after his own meetings with the PLO were publicly exposed.

Under the Reagan administration, secret contacts with the PLO continued unabated, while Secretary of State George Shultz initiated open meetings with members of the Palestine National Council (not, technically, PLO operatives). Ultimately, judging that Arafat had renounced terrorism and recognized Israel, the administration extended diplomatic recognition to the PLO.

A similar story can be told about presidential commitments opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state. The 1982 Reagan peace plan, issued on the heels of the PLO's expulsion from Beirut, reiterated Carter's earlier recognition of the "legitimate rights of the Palestinians" but pledged that the U.S. "will not support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza." When George H.W. Bush came into office, he reaffirmed the pledge but pressured Israel into attending the 1991 Madrid peace conference, an event that included Palestinian representatives widely understood to have been pre-approved by the PLO.

During the Clinton years, when Israel's Labor government itself opened negotiations with the PLO that would eventuate in the Oslo accords, the American administration naturally became a champion of Palestinian statehood (while pledging no contact with Hamas—another commitment that may soon go by the boards). Even when the PLO reneged on Oslo and resumed terrorist attacks, the George W. Bush administration, in its 2003 Road Map, reaffirmed America's new commitment to statehood—provided the Palestinians abandoned violence—and the president reiterated this commitment in 2005 despite the fact that Palestinian violence had not ceased.

This brings us back to the 2004 letter from Bush to Sharon. That letter, issued to support Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, acknowledged that Israel's final borders would have to be based on "new realities on the ground including already existing major Israeli population centers"—i.e., settlement blocs—in the West Bank. This "1967-plus" formula is what Obama now appears to be rejecting.

It may be that the old saying is right and that certain kinds of promises are made to be broken. But if so, the obvious lesson is only the need to keep that cautionary principle in mind when undertaking important strategic decisions hinging on presidential guarantees.

--- Oct. 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Europe is of two minds

A plot by Arab men holding European citizenship to carry out Mumbai-like shooting attacks in France, Germany and Britain has been uncovered by Western intelligence services. The United States has apparently thwarted the planned attacks with an intensified targeted killing campaign, using drone aircraft, of suspected Taliban and al-Qaida-backed terrorists along the Pakistan-Afghan border.

However, the danger posed by radicalized Muslims in Europe is hardly diminished. Dozens of German, Dutch, French and British Islamists are presently undergoing military training in Pakistan-Afghanistan hoping to replicate the bloodletting carried out by their predecessors including the 2004 Madrid train bombings that killed 191; and the July 2005 attacks on London's transport system that took 56 lives. That subsequent attacks failed, among them the second try against London's transport system, car bombs that did not explode in London, the failure to blow up Glasgow's airport terminal, can be put down to chance. Numerous other plots were frustrated by security forces before they could be carried out.

The heightened state of alert, the long security lines at airports, the bomb-sniffing dogs at railroad stations have fostered an atmosphere of frustration and intimidation. The result? Forbearance for Islamist "values" is on decline. There is, for instance, widespread support across the political spectrum for banning the burka. A poll found that 74% of Spaniards agreed that a "clash of civilizations" was underway. In France, only 45% of respondents believed the country's Muslims were loyal. In the UK, a majority of people associated Islam with terrorism and the repression of women.

Notably, however, the popular -- and in some cases public policy -- rebuff of Islamist bullying has not carried over to European attitudes about the Palestinians. The Islamist crusade against Israel has somehow been inoculated from reproach in Europe on both the governmental and grass-roots level.

Whatever their qualms about Islamism and Arab extremism at home, Spain's socialist government and France's center-right government collaborate within the European Union on behalf of a Palestinian Authority that, partly on Islamic grounds, rejects Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. Nicolas Sarkozy's opponents have labeled him as pro-Israel, yet one would be hard-pressed to say where his positions differ from those enunciated by Mahmoud Abbas. Over the summer, France symbolically upgraded its diplomatic recognition of the Palestinian delegation in Paris. Madrid and Paris have jointly spearheaded efforts for European Union recognition of Palestinian statehood regardless of the outcome of negotiations between Israel and the PA. The situation is little better in the UK where the new Conservative-led government has embraced the Foreign Office's customary chilly outlook toward Israel, demanding a complete lifting of the quarantine against Hamas-controlled Gaza and labeling housing construction anywhere over the Green Line "a major barrier" to peace.

There is also no discernible backlash of Western public opinion over Palestinian bellicosity. Take the latest polling conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research which garnered considerable coverage for its finding that most Palestinian Arabs oppose negotiations with Israel unless the settlement construction freeze is extended. Considerably less attention has been drawn to another aspect of the survey: A majority of Palestinians supported the recent murders of two Israeli men and two women -- one of whom was pregnant -- near Hebron notwithstanding the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that were getting under way.

Europeans may be on their way to rejecting the scurrilous "root causes" explanation which seeks to excuse violent behavior by their own Muslim extremists, but this thinking does not carry over in the case of Palestinian brutality against Israel. The reasons are undoubtedly manifold: Palestinian groups have lately tended to confine their aggression to universally detested "settlers;" the deplorable campaign of demonization and de-legitimization of Israel manifest in the European media apparently excuses even the most contemptible Palestinian behavior; and the misguided decoupling of the Palestinian issue from the overall Islamist agenda has further muddied the waters. Hamas, an off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, gets a pass because the target of its violence is Israel.

Europe appears to be of two minds, showing growing intolerance of jihadi terrorization at home while urging Israel to accommodate Islamist intimidation in the Middle East. Old fashioned prejudice may be part of the explanation. Three-quarters of all Spaniards surveyed in 2009 exhibited classic anti-Semitic tendencies, and polls show large European majorities hold negative views of the Jewish state. Rather than treat Israel as the "Jew among nations," Europe would do better to appreciate that Israel's security is integral to the future of Western civilization.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Minutes of War

The October 6th anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War was accompanied this year by the unexpected release of war cabinet minutes by Israel's State Archives covering the opening days of the fighting. There were no startling revelations; certainly no references to Israel's purported nuclear capabilities; or confirmation that defense minister Moshe Dayan told prime minister Golda Meir that "the Third Temple is in danger." Still, the publication of the protocols reopened old wounds and temporarily threw "start-up nation" Israel into an existential funk.

Though there have been countless war histories, memoires by key participants, and the official findings of the Agranat Commission -- which blamed David Elazar, the country's top general, for allowing the army to be taken by surprise -- the cabinet transcripts provided a fresh sense of immediacy. Here was Meir worrying aloud that the dangers Israel faced were even greater than those it confronted during the 1948 War of Independence. The publicly unflappable Moshe Dayan is in despair telling the cabinet that the war was being lost; that Syria and Egypt could conquer Israel; that Jordan would likely open-up a third front. "I didn't sufficiently appreciate the strength of the enemy" and overestimated the IDF's ability to cope with this kind of attack, he admits. The Soviet-supplied surface-to-air missiles are taking a devastating toll on the air force. There is talk of calling up older high-school students, long-retired reservists, even enlisting Diaspora Jews. Meir offers to travel secretly to Washington where she would throw herself at Richard Nixon's mercy.

The released minutes created a hue and cry even though the peril Israel faced during those dark days is no secret. Elazar partisans press again for his full public rehabilitation; after all, the minutes show him cool-headed, wisely urging -- against Dayan's recommendation -- a full IDF mobilization. Some columnists take Dayan to task for his willingness to abandon wounded soldiers to their fate after Egyptian forces overran the Bar-Lev Line fortifications. His daughter Yael tells Israel Radio that her late father had written openly of his regrets in his memoirs.

Post-Zionists relish the harm done to Dayan's image -- another Zionist icon punctured. For Israel's left, the message of the minutes is about the limitations of Israeli military power. The current cabinet is urged to pursue compromise over political stagnation and more war. Security hawks draw other lessons. By the morning of October 6, 1973 Israel had compelling, albeit imperfect, intelligence to recommend a preemptive attack. Meir worried that if Israel struck first, the international community would blame the Jews for the war: “The world’s nastiness is plain to see. They won’t believe us."

The protocols strike a chord with Israelis who know that for all their country's technological prowess and despite its Western standard of living, the existential dangers the Jewish state faced 37 years ago are no less real today. Iran is intent on developing nuclear weapons and unequivocal about its genocidal intentions toward the Zionist enterprise. Hezbollah has transformed Lebanon into an Iranian satellite. Syria, aligned with Iran, is a constant menace. Hamas controlled Gaza is also in Iran's orbit. Meantime, even moderate Palestinian Arabs reject the mantra: "Two states, one Jewish, one Arab, living side-by-side in peace."

Israelis know, too, that an all-out war nowadays, when missiles pose a near-insurmountable danger, could devastate Israel's civilian population concentrated along the country's narrow coastal plain. Fortunately, a combination of determination and healthy denial provides ordinary Israelis with the coping mechanism necessary to go about their daily lives.

The minutes inform contemporary decision makers that intelligence about enemy intentions especially in wartime is imperfect. Fortunately, the Syrians and Egyptians hadn't grasped the extent of Israel's unpreparedness and did not press their advantage. Perhaps their goals were limited in the first place. In any event, the minutes challenge the notion that the diplomatic fallout of a preemptive attack makes it smart policy to absorb the first blow. If that were the case, UN Security Council Resolution 338, which ended the war, would have given Israel credit for waiting to be attacked and suffering 2,656 dead and 7,000 wounded.

Israel's current top general, Gabi Ashkenazi, writes that the nation has taken on board the main lesson of the Yom Kippur War: never to underestimate any enemy and never to allow intelligence to lead to false certainties.

-- October 2010

Monday, October 04, 2010

The unlovable Avigdor Lieberman

Avigdor Lieberman's September 28th speech at the UN General Assembly – delivered in English and broadcast live by Al-Jazeera – was not well received. The doyen of Israeli left-wing columnists, Yediot Aharonot's Nahum Barnea, dismissed his country's foreign minister as a "clown." Haaretz editorialized for Lieberman's resignation. Britain's Daily Telegraph characterized the address as "inflammatory.”

And dismissing Lieberman as "a West Bank settler" not "committed to peacemaking," the Los Angeles Times editorialized that Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Rabin would never have allowed a foreign minister of theirs to articulate views that contradicted government policy. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must either be duplicitous, in implying Lieberman's address did not have his backing, or politically enfeebled, the newspaper adjudged.

There is no disputing the fact that the speech was "off-message" -- differing from the accommodationist tone Netanyahu has set – and delivered by a reviled envoy. What is debatable is whether Lieberman's unhelpful address deserved the opprobrium heaped upon it; and whether the claim that foreign ministers loyally adhere to the political line set by their premiers is factual.

First to the substance of Lieberman's speech which began by stating the obvious: Israel's political arena is not divided between those who want peace and those who prefer a Greater Israel. Instead, Israel's majority is divided over how to secure peace. The Arabs controlled the West Bank and Gaza for nearly two decades and "no-one tried to create a Palestinian state," Lieberman pointed out. Yet, later, settlements notwithstanding, "peace agreements were achieved with Egypt and Jordan." There being no trust between Israelis and Palestinians and with policy differences as knotty as they are, Lieberman recommended that the parties aim for "a long-term intermediate agreement" rather than an absolute resolution of the conflict in a matter of months.

More controversially, he argued that "the guiding principle for a final status agreement must not be land-for-peace but rather [an] exchange of populated territory." Conflicts elsewhere, he stated, which had involved competing national and religious narratives -- post-communist Czechoslovakia and of East Timor, for instance – had been eased by redrawing boundaries. "Let me be very clear," Lieberman said, "I am not speaking about moving populations, but rather about moving borders to better reflect demographic realities."

Lieberman's plan may be geographically unworkable, as veteran Israeli journalist Yaron London has convincingly argued. Few imagine it will ever garner Palestinian approval. Yet on a purely moral plane, it would be hard to argue an exchange of populated territory is inherently a more nefarious idea than advocating a complete Israeli withdrawal to the hard-to-defend armistice lines in effect between 1949 and 1967 – Abba Eban's "Auschwitz borders."

Lieberman's decision to present his scheme at the General Assembly highlights a structural anomaly in Israel's political system. The job of foreign minister is a patronage appointment. Prime ministers usually have to tap rivals from within their own party or from among requisite coalition partners. As a result, foreign ministers seldom see themselves as loyal-bound to a premier. Moshe Sharett vehemently disapproved of David Ben-Gurion's security policies. Moshe Dayan represented Menachem Begin only to the extent that their views coincided. Shimon Peres offered territorial concessions to the Palestinians without first clearing them with Yitzhak Rabin. Tzipi Livni sessions with Ahmed Qurei were a sideshow to Ehud Olmert's bargaining with Mahmoud Abbas. Silvan Shalom was hardly Ariel Sharon's vicar of foreign policy any more than David Levy or Shimon Peres were for Yitzhak Shamir. Thankfully, during the crisis years of the second intifada, Sharon and Peres worked mostly in tandem because they agreed on the overriding need to quash Palestinian aggression.

It was therefore not all that odd for Netanyahu's office to distance itself from Lieberman's speech, to state that the foreign minister had not coordinated his address with the premier, and to recall that Netanyahu – not Lieberman – is actually heading negotiations with the Palestinians. Some will seek Machiavellian explanations for the speech and the premier's response to it, perhaps giving the two more credit, as politicians and statesmen, than they deserve.

What would it take for Israeli foreign policy-makers to speak with one voice?

Nothing short of jettisoning Israel's electoral system of pure proportional representation, and empowering premier's to dismiss wayward cabinet ministers without grievous political cost. Plainly, it is easier to lash out at the unlovable Avigdor Lieberman than muster the integrity and energy necessary to fix what is really wrong.

-- October 2010

Introducing Ed Miliband

The newly elected leader of the British Labor Party, 40-year-old Ed Miliband, pledged during his campaign to visit Gaza, the West Bank and Israel to see first-hand "what is happening on the ground." But Labor's first Jewish leader is expected to make Britain's budget and debt burden – not foreign affairs – his top priority. Though union support gave Ed Miliband his narrow margin of victory over brother David, he has moved quickly to jettison his "Red Ed" moniker.

What to make of Miliband's Jewishness? He makes no effort to deny his origins; neither is there any sentimentality for Jewish civilization. His parents fled Europe as Jews but raised their children to embrace exclusively "progressive" values. His Polish-born mother is an ardent pro-Palestinian activist. His late Belgian-born father was said to have evinced early Zionist sympathies before becoming permanently enamored with Marxism.

Plainly, Miliband will be no particular asset to Britain's 262,000-plus Jewish community. Likewise, his frosty attitude toward the Jewish state is not likely to undergo metamorphosis. He has described himself as a “critical friend of Israel” who opposes "blanket boycotts of goods from Israel." As a Euro-liberal he acknowledges Israel's right to self-defense purely in the abstract. For Miliband, even Israel's "right to exist" is implicitly conditioned on its ability to deliver "justice for the Palestinians." No wonder that party hard-liners fixated by the Palestinian Arab cause gravitated to his campaign.

Miliband takes the helm of a party that has always been of two minds about Zionism and Jews, its early association with the urban Jewish working classes notwithstanding. Nowadays, demographic and class shifts – there are fewer Jewish cabbies and more Jewish lawyers – have left Jews without influence in unions and their political loyalties mostly split between Labor and the Tories.

Founded in 1900, Labor began as an amalgamation of the Fabian Society, trade unions and a precursor socialist party. This did not automatically translate into tolerant attitudes toward Jews. The unions, for instance, supported passage of the 1905 Aliens Act aimed at restricting Jewish immigration from Czarist Russia. In 1911, trade unionists carried out a pogrom in Wales that forced out local Jewish merchants. On the other hand, in 1917, Labor warmly championed Jewish settlement in Palestine. And in 1922, Labor sent its first Jewish member, union leader Manny Shinwell, to parliament.

In the dark days before World War II, Labor only grudgingly accepted the necessity of rearmament against Nazi Germany. In opposition in 1944, Labor's platform was friendly toward Zionist aspirations; and in 1945 the party was calling for an end to Britain's heartless barring of Jewish immigration to Palestine.

All that changed within months of Labor's sweeping post-war election victory as foreign secretary Ernest Bevin, a former labor organizer with strong anti-Jewish prejudices, totally embraced the Arab line. The party remained hostile toward the Zionist enterprise until end of mandate and beyond. Paradoxically, this same Labor electoral victory sent an astounding 26 Jews to parliament. But as Prof. Geoffrey Alderman makes clear, not only did they not form a Jewish caucus, only six could be cajoled to venture the slightest public opposition to Bevin's catastrophic Palestine policies.

After Israel's War of Independence, the Labor government petulantly withheld diplomatic recognition until February 1949. Similarly, in 1956, Labor's Jewish MPs, then in opposition, refused to break ranks with party leader Hugh Gaitskell over his nasty criticism of Israel during the Sinai Campaign.

By the 1960s Labor's hard-left factions were on the ascendant. Yet even moderate prime minister Harold Wilson was cold to Israel's entreaties in the lead up to 1967 war. After Labor's 1979 defeat by Margaret Thatcher, the party only barely adjusted its leftward drift replacing Michael Foot with Neil Kinnock. The moderates regained control over the party when Tony Blair led "New Labor" to power in 1997. During Blair's long reign hostility toward Israel – and oftentimes obliquely toward Jews -- by Labor's supporters in the media, unions and academia became viral. Though Blair incessantly lobbied Washington to extract strategically costly diplomatic concessions from Israel during the second intifada, his continuing opposition to the Jewish state's de-legitimization tarred him as a philo-Zionist among leftists.

That era ended in May when Conservative David Cameron defeated Blair's successor Gordon Brown. Now, Miliband's victory makes it official: New Labor is finished.
Miliband is a radical optimist with a pragmatic streak. The new leader's hardheaded assessment may be that Israel-bashing provides few political benefits against an incumbent premier whose lack of empathy for the Zionist enterprise parallels his own.

-- September 2010

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