Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of the Palestinians in Israel

Pappe Makes History

Historians writing about Israel's 1948 fight for independence have placed heavy responsibility for the Palestinian Arab refugee problem on the Arab leaders who urged their people to flee Palestine temporarily while the Zionists were to be pushed into the sea. Of course, well before then hundreds of Palestinian Arab moderates who opposed the policies of intransigence, bellicosity and rejectionism had been murdered by the militants.

In the late 1980s a revisionist school of New Historians in Israel, with fresh access to archival material and politicized by their opposition to Israeli settlement policies, put forward a more critical view – which ranged from nuanced to hysterical – that argued Israel's founders had also been culpable for the refugees flight. Such self-criticism and soul-searching, while exasperating to Israel's mainstream, was nevertheless contextualized as an immutable characteristic of the Jewish psyche.

For Ilan Pappe all this is beside the point. The inflammatory author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine is out with a new book The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of the Palestinians in Israel. It regurgitates his creed that the Jewish state was born in sin and that this stain, this moral deformity, is ineradicable. The Haifa-born history professor, self-exiled to Britain, nowadays invests his energies in promoting the Arab cause in general and the academic boycott of his former university in particular.

Pappe's latest polemic focuses on Israel's Arab population, namely those who headed Jewish urgings and did not flee their villages. Never mind. Pappe's premise is that the Jews simply had no moral right to assert their case for national self-determination in Palestine because there were Arabs living there. The Arabs were justified in rejecting every compromise offered including the 1947 UN partition plan which would have created two states – one for them and one for the Jews – because the Jews were "newcomers."

In the course of defeating the invading Arab armies, the Arab Legion and the Palestinian Arab irregulars, the Jews in Pappe's version of history "expelled" over 700,000 refugees and, then, oddly, would not let them return as a state of war between the Arab world and Israel continued.

Pappe is galled "that those who stayed became the 'Arab minority of Israel.'" As soon as the war that claimed one percent of the Jewish population (and ended with a tenuous armistice) was over the Arabs were given citizenship and the right to vote. Were they treated just like the Jews? No. Pappe cannot fathom why their ID cards listed them as "members of the minority community" or why those who abandoned land during the war were prevented from reclaiming it. Or why Israeli Arabs in rural and border areas continued to live under military rule until 1966.

There were dark episodes. Pappe seems to relish retelling the painful calamity of "Kafr Qassem" which took place on the eve of another war, the 1956 Sinai Campaign and in an atmosphere accompanied by heightened fears of Arab fedayeen activity. An awful miscommunication over wartime curfew orders led to the killing by Israeli soldiers of 47 innocent Arabs. A number of those responsible were punished.

Throughout the narrative, Pappe's single-minded devotion to Palestinian victimization sets the tone. His account of the 1976 communist-instigated Land Day rioting, which left six Israeli Arabs dead, therefore misses some salient facts -- notably that the 6, 000 dunams of supposedly "Arab land" expropriated was considerably less than Jewish or state lands also earmarked for development at the time and intended to benefit both Jews and Arabs. Essentially, the Arabs' purpose in that and subsequent annual land day protests is to keep the Galilee a Jew-free zone.

Pappe seems to want it both ways. He tells readers that the Jews had absolutely no reason to imagine that the Arabs among them could conceivably pose a security risk – because "Palestinians by and large accepted Israel as a fait accompli" – yet challenges outside Arab critics for besmirching the community as being too docile. To the contrary, he reports some Israeli Arabs allegedly contemplated "an Algerian-like struggle." He even cites "as a famous case" (without a hint of disapproval) the 1969 bombing of a Hebrew University cafeteria by Arabs from the Galilee. Moreover, he credits the PLO for being considerate of the Israeli Arab predicament in not insisting they engage in systematic violence. He lauds the total solidarity, post-1967, between Israeli Arabs and their West Bank and Gaza cousins. Today, he notes, two increasingly popular Islamist movements compete for Israeli Arab affections; one of which, led by Raid Salah, rejects voting in national elections as conferring legitimacy upon the Jewish state. Tellingly, a reason Pappe opposed the 1993 Oslo Accords was because the national rights of Israeli Arabs as Palestinians had not been protected.

He describes Ehud Barak's recklessly munificent concessions, rejected by Yasir Arafat at Camp David in 2000, as little more than a Zionist diktat. As for the frightening Arab riots of October 2000, unleashed in solidarity with the outbreak of the second intifada in the West Bank and Gaza, and which briefly severed the main north-south Israeli road system – it was a mere "gathering of youths" who were cold-bloodily picked off by "police snipers. Pappe is incensed that an unfeeling Hebrew press didn't bother to provide capsule obituaries for the Israeli Arab rioters even though it did for their Jewish victims.

Not surprisingly, Pappe sees no justification for granting preferential treatment to Israelis who serve in the IDF or do other forms of national service between ages 18-21. Most Israeli Arabs do neither. Instead, he finds it contemptible that there may be colleges that make some Arab high-school graduates wait until age 20 before admitting them into Israeli universities. In fact, most universities offer remedial programs to prepare Arab youths socially and scholastically for success in college. He does not deny that "Palestinian citizens of Israel" – he abhors the terms Israeli Arabs – have achieved successes in a wide range of fields. It's simply irrefutable despite an unbelievably complicated political environment. Pappe himself points out that 25 percent of medical students are Israeli Arabs despite his imaginary "latent apartheid." Yes there are 10 or so Arab members of the 120-member Knesset, but Pappe's complaint is that none sit on its intelligence subcommittee. Go figure. Just speaking Arabic in a shopping mall can open one up to attack by Jewish ruffians, he says. No doubt there are such cases, but he and I plainly do not frequent the same malls.

Even in Pappe's Israel, life is not entirely hellish for the Arab minority. He credits Adalah, an advocacy group funded by the New Israel Fund, for doing a good job at advocating for the "collective rights" of Palestinian Israelis. He is buoyed by the fact that "there are growing spaces of leisure and pastime" where Arabs and Jews enjoy restaurants, coffee houses, and parks together – as if this is really something new. And in perhaps the most condescending aside in the book, he lauds the absence of segregation in public transportation!

Arabs may legitimately control 22 nation states rooted in Arab ethnicity; Muslims may legitimately reign over 56 countries in which religion and citizenship are symbiotically linked. Only the existence of one Jewish state founded on basis of a 2,000 year-old civilizational connection between the Jewish people and Zion is, according to Pappe's analysis, illegitimate.

Even in the pantheon of Blame-Israel-First revisionist historians, Pappe's stands beyond the pale.

His friend and mentor, Avi Shlaim, author of Collusion Across the Jordan: King Abdullah and the Zionist Movement, has claimed that Jordan never actually planned to help push Israel into the sea when it invaded in 1948, and that afterwards David Ben-Gurion supposedly had ample opportunity to find a way to make peace with Abdullah before the monarch was assassinated in 1951, but didn't. Shlaim places exclusive blame on Ben-Gurion and on every Israeli prime minister since him, for perpetuating the conflict. He sees Zionism as having been hijacked by Israel's right-wing to perpetuate the "illegal occupation." Yet Shlaim opposes anti-Israel academic boycotts and has described Zionism, presumably in its liberal manifestation, as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.

Similarly, the late Simha Flapan may have recklessly damaged Israel's image with The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities by charging that the Zionists were somehow morally responsible for the Palestinian flight because, deep down, they did not really want them to stay. Still, Flapan, a life-long socialist, maintained that he never questioned "the moral justification and historical necessity of Zionism."
If Pappe is a prisoner of his own ideology, the trajectory of Benny Morris shows that at least one of the original revisionist historians has been capable of reevaluating his position even if he can't quite bring himself to explicitly recant.

In The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949, Morris held both Israel and the Arabs culpable for the refugees' flight. One can almost commiserate with Morris's desire to somehow split the difference. If only those who promulgated the Palestinian Arab narrative were similarly inclined. But in the final analysis, the onus must rest with the Arabs; their leaders miscalculated and the masses paid the price.

Morris now claims his egregious 1987 account of Zionism as a "colonizing and expansionist ideology and movement ... intent on politically, and even physically, dispossessing and supplanting the Arabs," referred to the 1930s before Zionist leaders embraced multiple plans for partition of Palestine. Morris has turned out to be a passionate Zionist; a liberal critic of Israeli settlement policies, but a defender of the country in the court of world opinion. His recent work, One State, Two States placed decisive responsibility for the continuation of the conflict squarely on the Arabs – a stance that has earned him excommunication by the remaining revisionists.

There is little prospect, however, that Pappe will allow facts to dent his pathological loathing of Israel. History works in mysterious ways. Pappe lost his bid for a Knesset seat in 1996 on the communist ticket. The Knesset's gain is the academy's loss. Pity the student assigned this book and shame on any professor for assigning it.


Monday, July 25, 2011

The Barghouti - Mandala Analogy

Seeing Barghouti Plain

That Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti is culpable in the murder of tens of Israelis -- and a Greek Orthodox monk mistaken for a Jew -- is not in dispute. In collaboration with Palestinian Authority chairman Yasir Arafat, Barghouti provided West Bank terror gangs with cash and guns to stoke the second intifada. Convicted on five counts of murder by a Tel Aviv court, he is now serving a life sentence in an Israeli penitentiary.

The 52 year-old Barghouti's Israeli backers -- Uri Avnery's post-Zionist Gush Shalom, the Haaretz newspaper, novelist Amos Oz, former Meretz Party head Haim Oron, past Labor Party leader Benjamin Ben Eliezer and current Labor leadership contender Amir Peretz --- have anointed him the "Palestinian Mandela." That conjures up images of a principled, graying freedom fighter with the courage to move his people toward reconciliation. They say that when Mahmoud Abbas leaves the scene, Barghouti is the redeemer to lead "Palestine" to peace with Israel.

Indeed, in The Long Walk to Freedom, South African leader Nelson Mandela wrote that, "If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner." But those who claim Barghouti walks in the footsteps of Mandela either think too much of the former or too little of the latter.

Who is Barghouti?

He belongs to a prominent Palestinian clan and was a youthful activist in the first intifada which sought to compel Israel out of Judea, Samaria and Gaza and claimed nearly 200 Israeli and over 1,300 Palestinian Arab lives. Israel jailed and deported Barghouti twice in the 1980s, only to see him returned as a senior Fatah leader after the 1993 Oslo Accords were signed. Fluent in Hebrew – The New York Times once described him as "charming, articulate and intelligent, even if a bit of a showboat" – he was a favorite participant at Israeli "peace camp" events.

Even as he proclaimed his commitment to peaceful coexistence – contingent on an Israeli withdrawal to the vulnerable 1949 Armistice Lines – he led openly violent demonstrations against the "occupation" and clandestinely co-founded Tanzim, a new Fatah-aligned terror faction.

During the second intifada, Barghouti served a ranking member of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades which carried out murderous attacks against Israeli civilians on both sides of the Green Line. Still, Barghouti has never stopped insisting that he opposes terrorism especially in pre-1967 Israel.

In prison, Barghouti has honed his gift for dissimulation outsmarting journalists, prison authorities and the Shin Bet intelligence agency which had granted him unparalleled perks including use of the warden's office to conduct media interviews. He swiftly reinvented himself as a "dissident" and scholar. Some Arabists worried, quite needlessly it turned out, that the Shin Bet had succeeded in swaying Barghouti toward genuine moderation.
In a recent interview with Time magazine [July 17, 2011] Barghouti, master of the oxymoron, called for "peaceful resistance…at this point in time." For Time's Karl Vick – who corresponded with Barghouti through his lawyers -- the "setting" (which the reporter could only conjure up) recalled Robben Island in apartheid South Africa. Having disingenuously smeared Israel with the insulting analogy, Vick promptly backpedaled: "Comparisons with Arafat are more apt."

Unsurprisingly, prison has made the charismatic Barghouti ever more popular with the Palestinian street which –like him – is ambivalent about the utility of yet another paroxysm of intifada violence. Barghouti is strong advocate of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah and would defeat Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh (61-33 percent) in any Palestinian leadership contest. Following the "there go the people; I must follow them" style of leadership, Barghouti tells Palestinians what they want to hear: They are the "generators of the longest armed revolution in modern history" facing a colonialist enemy whose cruelty "is unparalleled." [Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Sept. 28, 2010]. Peace talks are futile in the quest to push Israel back to the old armistice lines; Palestinians should march in the millions this September to demand the UN unilaterally declare a Palestinian state on the PLOs terms.

The penny may have finally dropped at Shin Bet headquarters; prison authorities lately isolated Barghouti for unauthorized possession of a mobile phone.

In point of fact, there was never much evidence to substantiate the notion that the Palestinian Arabs want a Mandela-like leader. Certainly, their xenophobic war against Zionism is no parallel to the African struggle against apartheid. As for the straw man argument that Israelis reject Barghouti because of his violent history, it's worth recalling that Yitzhak Shamir, who was not squeamish about legitimate armed struggle, refused to talk to the PLO because he was convinced that the "peace" it offered was "the peace of the cemetery." [page 198 autobiography] And in shaking hands with the insalubrious Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin calculated – wrongly in turned out – that “You make peace with your enemies — not the Queen of Holland.”

Barghouti has shown no capacity for being able to move from enemy to real peace partner. Two years after his capture, Oslo architect Yossi Beilin blamed Arafat for leading his former interlocutor astray. Beilin recounted Barghouti telling him that his purpose in unleashing an orgy of violence against Israel was to finesse the Palestinian street which would otherwise fall to Hamas. Beilin found Barghouti's explanation "cynical" and "frightening."

True to form, Beilin got over his sense of betrayal and has joined other leftists in advocating Barghouti's release.

For Israelis not enamored with his charisma, what disqualifies Barghouti from the "Palestinian Mandela" moniker is not his history of malice, but his continuing refusal to abandon it. Barghouti two-state solution today is ominously reminiscent of Arafat's 1974 scheme for the phased destruction of Israel – which underpinned his approach to Oslo.

This Palestinian redeemer lacks the courage to tell his people that they can't have peace with Israel while insisting on the "right" of hundreds of thousands of Arab refugees from the 1948 War, plus millions of their progeny, to "return" to what is today Israel. Nor will he tell Palestinian Arabs that the Jewish people have a legitimate historical, cultural and political connection to the land of Israel. Is he the Palestinian peacemaker to make the gutsy case that a single Jewish state, surrounded by 22 unfriendly Arab states will need security arrangements, including Palestinian demilitarization and defensible boundaries, before it can withdraw from most of its heartland.

The Palestinian Arabs have no realistic plan forward – beyond exploiting their automatic majority in the UN General assembly – and Barghouti is no Mandela because he's incapable of providing them with one. Rather than lead his people to a sustainable two-state solution, coexistence with Israel and, ultimately, healing and reconciliation he simply trails behind them toward one more dead end.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011


A More Than Peripheral Challenge

In a country where the sky is mostly blue and the sun mostly shines the southernmost city of Eilat has nonetheless laid claim – with justification – to being Israel's sun capital. Reliable good weather does not, however, solve all problems. Eilat has been inundated with illegal, mostly Eritrean and Sudanese, immigrants. Its airport is antiquated; there is no rail service, and many of its young people can't wait to move out.

In July, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a high-powered committee charged with finding ways to rehabilitate Eilat's transportation, education, tourism and cultural infrastructure. This committee has all the right players: the premier's loyal cabinet secretary; ministers of Education and Finance, as well as the ministers of Negev & Galilee Development, Transportation, Tourism, Interior and Culture & Sports. They are joined by Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevy and Prof. Eugene Kandel, chairman of the National Economic Council.

When in 1947 the UN voted to create an Arab and a Jewish state in Palestine it gave Eilat to nascent Israel. The Arabs rejected partition so Israeli forces had to capture, on March 10, 1949, the desolate though strategic spot. Settled out of Negev badlands, Eilat was incorporated as a municipality in 1952 for just several thousand souls. Commuter buses serving Eilat were murderously set upon by Fedayeen gangs from Gaza and Jordan. Water had to be piped in though by the 1960s revolutionary desalination plants began providing for the bulk of the city's water needs.
A less than picturesque port was developed which became crucial to Israel's trade with Africa and Asia and for oil imports from Iran. In 1956 and again in 1967 Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran (where the Gulf of Eilat opens into the Red Sea) to Israeli shipping. This unlawful blockade contributed to the outbreak of both the Sinai Campaign and the Six Day War.

Eilat's port now handles about six percent of Israel's maritime trade. By government fiat, cars produced in the Far East must enter Israel via Port Eilat making this commerce the facility's main source of income and providing jobs for 130 longshoremen. The Finance Ministry is in the process of privatizing the port while the Eilat committee is weighing a plan to relocate the docks in order to expand the hotel district. Meantime, pollution from the port has repeatedly closed area beaches. A not well maintained oil pipeline that connects Eilat to Haifa recently punctured causing substantial environmental damage north of the city.

Eilat's early bad rap as an "ill-planned honky-tonk" town notwithstanding, the city has blossomed over the decades. Branding itself as the place where the sun, desert and sea meet, Eilat has been thriving as an ideal vacation destination offering a wide range of hotels (12,000 rooms) and an assortment of recreational activities from diving and snorkeling to parasailing and duty-free shopping. Budget conscious Israelis may complain that it is cheaper to take a packaged vacation abroad but Europeans, especially, find the city a good value. Geographically, Eilat is only 170 miles (280 kilometers) from Tel Aviv. Looking out from the Gulf of Eilat and the Red Sea a visitor can glance simultaneously at the Egyptian Sinai, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Tel Aviv's humidity is replaced by Eilat's dry desert climate. The area is just far enough away from the country's center to be designated as a wartime evacuation point in the event of an all-out war. In the main, the city has been spared wartime violence even during the gruesome second intifada. That said three Israelis were murdered in 2007 in a suicide bombing of a bakery and the city has also been the occasional target of rocket attacks.

Eilat has a small modern pier terminal which accommodates about 10,000 passenger arrivals a year. It's the southern terminus of the 580-mile long Israel Trail, but most visitors come by land transportation. Tens of thousands of European tourists arrive on charter flights to Ovda Airport, part of a military airbase north of the city; others arrive on shuttle flights to Eilat Airport from Ben-Gurion Airport. The IDF is not thrilled to share its airspace with commercial planes and the downtown Eilat field has outgrown its location. So Netanyahu has approved building new airport – to be named after Ilan Ramon – just north of Eilat in the copper mining Timna Valley district, to accommodate both domestic and international arrivals.

Still, even a casual visitor will notice what permanent residents cannot escape. There are an estimated 8,000 illegal immigrants among Eilat's population of 56,000 (7,500 of whom are new immigrants). Hundreds more African workers have been legalized for employment in the hotel industry. One has just become South Sudan's consul in Israel.

To be clear: Most serious crimes in Eilat are committed by Israelis, but with 14 percent of the total population consisting of poverty-stricken Africans, and 80% of the citizenry employed by the tourist industry, Eilat can't afford losing its image as a carefree vacation destination. The municipality is now under criticism from leftwing campaigners for having set up special school for foreign pupils rather than absorbing them somehow in the municipal system. In this context, Eilat's citizens are hoping Netanyahu fulfils his pledge to accelerate construction of a fence along the Negev-Sinai border to block illegal immigration and terrorist infiltration.

Locals will be watching to see what tangible steps the government takes to upgrade roads leading to the city. What is most needed is the government's promised rail link to Eilat via Beersheba from Tel Aviv. Netanyahu has also spoken of a rail link to Ashdod which would mean that passengers (and freight) could move between Israel's Red Sea and Mediterranean ports. "That will change Israel forever," Netanyahu said.

The city has been fortunate to have the support of the organized North American Jewish community which has invested in its school system. Now, 72% of high school students have passed their higher education matriculation exams (up from 27%). In 2002, Ben-Gurion University of Beersheba began operating a local campus serving 700 students with dorm facilities funded by the UJA. Locals who have completed their IDF service are eligible for tuition-free study. Philanthropic support has also enabled Josephtal Hospital to provide state-of-the-art emergency services.

Of course, Eilat is no newcomer to Jewish history. It is mentioned in the Bible (Deut. 2:8) in connection with the wonderings of the Israelites out of Egypt and Solomon's creation of a "navy of ships" (I Kings 9:26;). Jews held on to a hardscrabble existence there possibly until Crusader times.

Netanyahu has pledged to "jump Eilat forward." Not only Eilat, but other development towns settled in the 1950s in border and rural areas up and down Israel are hoping this promise is not made to be broken. At stake is meeting the perennial Zionist challenge of linking, finally, the center to the periphery.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The state of the Arab state - Legitimacy - The Arab Spring & the Lesson of the collapse of the UAR 50 Years Ago

As Arabs from the Mashriq to the Maghreb – one end of the Arab world to the other – contemplate where the six month-long upheavals that began with the Arab Spring are fated to deliver them those with longer memories may recall the dramatic summer 50 years ago when an earlier experiment at reshaping the political contours of Arab governance came unraveled: The 1961 breakup of the United Arab Republic (UAR) as the union of Syria and Egypt was known.

Declared in February 1958, the unification came in response to Syrian lobbying of Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser for a fusion and was popularly backed in both countries. The ideal of pan- Arab unity was all the rage and the hope was that other states beginning with Iraq would join.

Pan-Arabism was seen as a workaround for the lack of legitimacy that affected most Arab leaders as well as the political systems they oversaw. But Nasser, by dint of his personality and charisma, had enjoyed an almost mystical sense of God-given grace which Muslims term Baraka. However, the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Jordan perceived the pan-Arab model as a threat to their own religious-based claims for legitimacy; and even a new Iraqi government, purportedly favorable to pan-Arabism, found reasons not to join.

In short order, the experiment came undone. Nasser's idea of unity was for him to be the political and economic overlord of the UAR. Promises to protect private property fell by the wayside; as did pledges of bread and liberty. Syrian landowners resented Cairo's land reform policies; Syrian military officers bristled at taking orders from Egyptians; the business class took umbrage at nationalizations schemes, and the inherent inefficiencies of Nasser-style central economic planning soon became apparent.

The Syrian's broke away. Nasser prudently decided not to force the issue ("Arabs should not shed the blood of Arabs") and by August-September 1961 the union had been junked. A magnanimous Nasser allowed the Cairo-based Arab League to readmit Syria as an independent member. Still, the idea of Pan-Arabism survived for decades. In 1958, the monarchies of Jordan and Iraq attempted federation; later Egypt and Syria tried again, once with Libya and another time with Iraq; North Yemen twice sought to federate with Egypt (1958 and 1963); in 1961, Iraq sought to "merge" with Kuwait claiming the sheikdom as a province of its own; there was talk of merging Libya and Egypt (1973); Tunisia and Libya (1974) and a confederation of the West Bank and Jordan.

With neither Arab nationalism nor pan-Arabism having provided an authentic way forward, the quandary of political legitimacy remains unresolved. Some, including The Economist, are sanguine that the Arab Spring will ultimately deliver democratization and solve the problem. Yet for that to happen today's messy popular struggle for liberty will somehow need to be transformed into a concerted effort for genuine democratization in which regimes emerge that are capable of supporting modernity-embracing representative government and providing institutional protections for minority viewpoints.

But from the vantage point of 50 years since the breakdown of the UAR and its promise of legitimacy through pan-Arabism, the failure of Arab nationalist movements such as the Ba'ath in Syria and Iraq and now the ascendency of national-based Islamist parties (themselves fragmented over tactics and strategy) the prospect of democratization panning out seems improbable. Which raises the distinct possibility that the Arabs might entirely abandon the Western nation-state model as an artificial construct of colonial mapmakers unsuitable for Moslem civilization, opting instead for the pan-Islamist alternative.

Certainly, the state of the Arab state is hardly encouraging. Despite a brave front put up by the Arab League – inviting South Sudan to join after it broke away from Khartoum, for instance – Arab countries are foundering. To cite only the most obvious examples: Lebanon is a failed state under Hezbollah domination. In Libya and Yemen chaos has called attention to the intrinsic weakness of those states as viable political entities; the fragility of Bahrain has been exposed; in Egypt and Tunisia elections have had to be postponed out of sensible concerns that doing otherwise would result in a "democratic" victory for Islamist forces out to reshape the national character of those states; the Syrian regime may be in its death throes; Jordan's monarch is facing unprecedented challenges.

Obfuscating this reality, the Arab League has demanded the UN grant "Palestine" full membership even as the two contending Palestinian Arab regimes remain incapable of even the pretense of union.

If the nation-state paradigm in the Arab world is supplanted by the pan-Islamist alternative the challenge to the international order would be immense, as Charles T. Hill has pointed out in his recent monograph Trial of a Thousand Years: World Order and Islamism. For Islamists reject the state system embodied in the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia which had resolved that religious differences ought no longer to justify international wars. They moreover reject the boundaries, responsibilities, indeed the very premises upon which international order is anchored.

If the thesis that the state model in the Arab world is today facing its most critical test, than Western policymakers can have no higher interest than to ensure that the Arab Spring does lead to democratic reformation, that the Arabs become convinced that the state is compatible with Islam, and that Islam join other religions in what Hill calls the "debate over how far religion should go beyond private practice to display itself in the public square."

Failure would have consequences for both the Arabs and Western civilization too devastating to contemplate.


Thursday, July 14, 2011


The Good Fence

Just about anything that makes Israel more secure is opposed by its enemies and their enablers, as well as by its fair-weather friends in the international arena and by dissident elements within the Jewish community. A case in point is Israel's West Bank security barrier.

Yet what is most striking is that nine years after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the construction of the life-saving fence, critical swaths of the proposed 760 kilometer barricade have yet to be completed.

Why? Because finishing the fence would force Israel's polity to make tough decisions that it would rather postpone about de facto boundaries; because details about its precise route, in a very few locations, are being challenged in the Israeli courts, but mostly because of habitual budgetary and bureaucratic foot-dragging.
Paradoxically, the success of the fence has removed much of the incentive – public pressure on politicians -- to complete it.

And yet gaps in the barrier made it easy for West Bank Palestinians to stab Christine Logan to death in the Jerusalem forest late last year and to wound two Israelis in a downtown Beersheba axe-wielding attack last month [June].

The original concept of a security fence had many boosters from former Knesset member Haim Ramon, and former national security adviser Uzi Dayan to the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Reacting to Palestinian Arab violence in 1992, Rabin argued that a barrier running where it was most effective -- and not necessarily along the hard-to-defend 1949 Armistice Lines – needed to separate West Bank Palestinians from Israeli population centers. Later, Ehud Barak as premier also picked up the scheme.

But the real impetus came in the wake of the second intifada unleashed by Yasir Arafat in September 2000. Dozens of Palestinian suicide bombings claimed scores of Israeli lives. Between 2000 and 2005, the height of the Palestinians' blood-soaked frenzy, a staggering 26,000 terror attacks were launched against Israelis including 144 by suicide bombers; over 1,000 Israelis were murdered, 6,000 wounded. In one hideous June 2001 instance, a suicide bomber slaughtered 21 teenagers on a Friday night at the Dolphinarium dance club in Tel Aviv.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came under intense grass-roots pressure to finally build the fence that would protect Israelis from the Palestinian onslaught. But Sharon worried that not enough thought had been given to what putting up such a fortification might signal about Israel's ancestral and geo-strategic claims to the land on the other side. He wanted time to overcome Palestinian terror through conventional military means.

Ordinary Israelis, however, did not want to wait any longer. When local authorities began taking matters into their own hands by building makeshift fences Sharon reluctantly reversed himself. The barrier's first continuous segment, opposite the northern West Bank, was completed at the end of July 2003; residents of the capital could also see signs of a protective "envelope" rising around Jerusalem. Finally, in 2005 the cabinet formally approved the route of the barrier as proposed by Sharon. It was a pricy decision; approximately $2 million per kilometer, but with Israel's economy stagnating under merciless Palestinian battering there was little alternative.

The fence alone would not have defeated the intifada, though demoralized terror leaders admitted that it appreciably complicated their "resistance" efforts. By March 2002 Sharon had ordered Operation Defense Shield which reversed the IDF's withdrawal from much of the West Bank that had taken place under the 1993 Oslo Accords. This campaign and other security measures together with the barrier essentially defanged Palestinian offensive capabilities in the West Bank.

An unforeseen positive consequence of the security barrier -- actually a multifaceted defense system that in very few places is a concrete wall (along highways to protect against Palestinian snipers) and elsewhere is mostly a combination of trenches, metal fencing and electronic sensors -- has been that it has made it possible to dramatically reduce the number of IDF checkpoints within the West Bank to less than 50.

Clearly, as the Gaza barrier demonstrates, gunmen can lob rockets over or -- as in the Gilad Schalit case -- tunnel beneath any barrier. In 2003, two British nationals managed to legally exit Gaza to bomb "Mike's Place" in Tel Aviv; and in 2005 terrorists launched a deadly attack at the Karni Truck Crossing. But since the Gaza perimeter was secured in 1999 no terror attacks have emanated from the Strip.

The West Bank fence has already proven to be a life-saver. In 2010, there were "only" seven fatalities attributable to Palestinian terror emanating in the West Bank. Even the still-incomplete security fence has made harder for enemy operatives to deliver car bombs or suicide bombers into Israeli population centers.

No doubt because of this success, the fence has served as a lightning-rod for Israel's radical de-legitimizers who have nonsensically labeled is an "apartheid" wall. As part of their lawfare campaign against Israel, Palestinians turned to the International Court at The Hague which predictably ruled -- exactly four years ago this month [July] -- that the barrier was "illegal."

Characteristic of those who have coalesced around this issue is the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) which, in keeping with its nuanced stance on suicide bombing, helps organize "direct-action" -- a euphemism for weekly riots -- at the fence. ISM, which professes to be Palestinian-led, was founded by Brooklyn-born Adam Shapiro and his wife Huwaida Arraf (an American citizen).

In contrast, "pro-peace" J-Street takes a more disingenuous line holding that if a barrier is necessary it should be constructed on the Israeli side of the 1949 Armistice Lines. In fact, over 80% of the route is within three miles of the Green Line. But given topography and demographics placing the barrier wholly on those lines – rather than where it can be most effective -- would be strategically self-defeating.

Israel's Supreme Court has upheld the legality of the barrier and where the fence veers east the court has at times ruled in favor of Palestinian claimants with regard to its precise route most notably in the Bil'in- Modi'in area.

The barrier was foisted on Israel by Palestinian aggression so its political implications cannot be entirely discounted. The current line demarcates the minimal depth necessary to separate as many Israeli civilians as possible from Palestinian attacks. Only some 8.5 percent of the barrier is situated east of the old porous armistice lines. Sharon had intended to retain geo-strategically vital territory – consensus settlement blocs -- on the Israeli side of the fence. And in Jerusalem the fence is being erected along the municipal boundaries so as not to divide the capital. That still leaves too many Israelis on the "wrong side" of the fence feeling isolated and worried that its placement is a precursor to the abandonment of Jewish rights in Judea and Samaria.

Whatever its location, the fence is a blight symbolizing a "victory" for Palestinian obduracy. But placing it ineffectually along the old seam line would only add insult to injury especially as even the comparatively moderate Palestinian Authority does accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.

Yet it is not foreign opposition but Israeli political lethargy that emphatically has been holding up completion of the barrier. Marc Luria, a founding member of Security Fence for Israel pointed out that Israel's Defense Ministry budget does not contain a line item for the barrier so funds are constantly redirected elsewhere. He argued that neglect of Israel's barrier along the Lebanese border emboldened Hezbollah to launch the attack that ignited the 2006 Second Lebanon War. In the south, Luria said, despite the deteriorating situation in Egypt, improved relations between Cairo and Hamas-controlled Gaza, the influx of thousands African asylum seekers into Israel, and notwithstanding the government's decision to construct a Negev-Sinai barrier – "Little has been done and progress is painfully slow."

So while the good news is that about 90 percent of the West Bank fence has been completed, without pressure from ordinary Israelis it will take another gory wave of Palestinian violence to prompt Israel's government to complete the crucial 10% gap (about 100 kilometers). Meanwhile, Israelis who live in Jerusalem, the Negev, Ariel, Gush Etzion and the Tzur Hadassah- Bet Shemesh corridor can only hope the Palestinian leadership decides not to launch a third intifada in the fall.

Good fences make good neighbors. Bad neighbors make good fences imperative.

Rabbi Louis Jacobs Reluctant Renegade

Unlike the Conservative movement in the United States which broke away from Reform Judaism to pursue a more religiously centrist and Zionist middle course, the British Masorti branch was born as a secession movement from Orthodoxy, inspired by the writings of theologian Louis Jacobs whose fifth yahrzeit is being marked this month [July 1; 8 Tamuz].

Jacobs was practically "tenure track" to becoming Britain's Chief Rabbi, a post that was and remains under the auspices of the (Orthodox) United Synagogue. Jacobs' ascent was stymied in the early 1960s over his heterodox views about the divine origins of the Pentateuch. At the time of his death in 2006, at age 85 in London, he had been the mostly unwitting founder of Britain's fledgling Masorti movement.
He would have preferred a reformation of modern Orthodoxy.

An only child, described as an "illui, a prodigy and a Gaon," Jacobs was born in Manchester, educated at the Gateshead Talmudic Academy, and once ordained held various pulpits before becoming a lecturer at Jews' College (today the London School of Jewish Studies) where he trained rabbinical students. As his reputation soared, his writings, beginning with We Have Reason to Believe (1957), drew critical notice for their deviation from Orthodox norms. Jacobs softly embraced the idea that the Torah was not literally dictated by God and recorded verbatim by Moses at Mt. Sinai; that a "human element" was involved in its composition. In 1961, Jacobs' advancement to college principal, considered a stepping stone for the chief's office, was blocked by then-Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie.

That was the beginning of what came to be known as the Jacobs Affair. He was labeled a heretic (apikoras) by the Orthodox establishment, though he had his supporters in the pews. Not a few rank-and-file United Synagogue members were non-practicing Orthodox. Regardless of levels of observance, still more shared Jacobs' progressive theological bent and were not scandalized by historical biblical criticism notwithstanding its conclusion that the Five Books of Moses was not the work of one author. The Jewish Chronicle newspaper – where for many years he wrote the "Ask the Rabbi" column -- championed his elevation at Jews' College and kept the affair in the spotlight.

In 1963, the grandees at London's New West End Synagogue invited Jacobs to become their "minister." Brodie said no and the stage was set for a final schism. By chance, the congregation was anyway set to relocate, and the building was quietly purchased by Jacobs' admirers and he was given the pulpit. Thus was born the New London Synagogue in the St. John's Wood neighborhood of London, today the flagship of nine Masorti synagogues in the country.

Truth be told, Jacobs failed to exploit his popularity to create an alternative to the United Synagogue. He was foremost a scholar -- not a rebel -- and devoted himself to his writings. These showed him to be a traditionalist who rejected fundamentalism; a believer who sought a middle course between what he saw as Orthodoxy's anthropomorphism of God, and the "de-personalization" of the Deity propagated by the progressives. He believed that "we hear the authentic voice of God speaking to us through the pages of the Bible…and its truth is in no way affected in that we can only hear that voice through the medium of human beings…"

He held Revelation to be real. Still, he thought the creed of Torah Min Ha-Shamayyin (literally from the heavens) needed to be synthesized – not abandoned – so that it could remain tenable to moderns. The problem wasn't "Torah" or "Heaven" but how to understand "from." Even when it came to the After-life Jacobs sought to steer a middle course, opposing atheistic denial while preferring a Judaism that was anchored in worldliness.

In Beyond Reasonable Doubt (1999) he described his approach as "liberal supernaturalism," that is, adhering to traditional ritual practice and belief in revelation, yet open to what secular learning has to teach on the historicity of the bible. On this point Jacobs parted company with modern Orthodoxy. His research had revealed that normative Judaism was the product of rabbis' astutely adjusting Jewish law to the ages. That meant there was no basis in believing rabbinic rulings needed to be understood as sacred or that they emanated as Oral Law at Mt Sinai. That is why in Tree of Life (1984) he had earlier promoted "a non-fundamentalist Halakah" that interpreted law as "a living corpus" which had evolved according to the needs of the age.

While Jacobs was foremost a critic of the house from which he came, in Beyond Reasonable Doubt (1999) he described his aversion to Reform Judaism as "partly emotional and partly aesthetic" – it lacked neshama. A Talmudist, he found Reform's attitude toward that great work condescending. He also expressed "unease" at modeling Britain's Masorti movement on the American Conservative model because, as noted, theirs was above all a reaction to Reform and his retort was to Orthodoxy. In Beyond Reasonable Doubt he summed up his dilemma with a story about a professor friend who could daven with the Orthodox but not talk to them; talk to the Reform but not daven with them; and so by default was most at home with observant Conservatives.
Of course, we can only guess at what Jacobs and his friend would have to say about the unremitting left-wing theological drift of U.S. Conservatives which has made the stream increasingly hard to differentiate from Reform.

As for Jacobs' lasting impact? On the ground the results are modest. As his chief eulogizer, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg noted, "He never wanted to establish a new movement." According to a 2011 report by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, 73 percent of British Jewish households (population 300,000) register a synagogue affiliation: 66% belong to United Synagogue or still more rigorously Orthodox streams; most of the remainder belongs to the Liberal and Reform branches; a miniscule 2.7% are Masorti. The best that can be said is that Jacobs' movement has almost doubled its total membership over the past 10 years, and that synagogues like Wittenberg's New North London are vibrant and bustling.

Having been ruled an apikoras, Jacobs was excluded, including by the current Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, from receiving honors on those occasions when he attended Orthodox services. Yet in 2005, readers of the Chronicle voted him as "the greatest British Jew of all time." Jonathan Romain, a Reform rabbi, captured the popular sentiment in his eulogy: "Louis Jacobs was often described as the greatest chief rabbi that British Jewry never had."

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Sunday & the 5-day workweek in Israel

Enjoy Your Weekend

With July 4th behind them, Americans can look forward to closing out the summer season with Labor Day on September 5th. All told, they will enjoy ten national holidays; New Yorkers get an additional three days off. Across the Atlantic, Britons will have nine "bank holiday" days in 2012; Germans 11; French 10 and Italians 12. And of course, in each of these countries, people have the leisure of weekends from the close of business on Friday until Monday morning.

In Israel, however, Sunday is the start of the work week. On the face of it, Israelis otherwise enjoy an almost equally bountiful number of off days: eight. On closer inspection, however, it turns out that all but one of these are religious holidays -- Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah and so on – the singular exception being Independence Day.

Ask new immigrants to Israel from Western countries, particularly those who are observant, and they are likely to confess that the absence of Sundays – and having only one non-religious bank holiday – has made for a difficult cultural adjustment.
But Israelis are not obliged to work on Fridays, so isn't that like having a Sunday? Not really. For one, it's a regular school day. Banks are open; so is the post office; building goes on at construction sites and sanitation workers are collecting garbage. There are no reliable figures for how many Israelis have Fridays off, but even for those fortunate enough to have the day to themselves, Fridays can still feel frenetic with sidurim (chores) like supermarket shopping, running errands, and preparing for Shabbat before the shops close early.

For those who take Shabbat in earnest the "day of rest" can take on its own hectic quality with morning and afternoon synagogue services, family meals and lots of socializing. While observant Jews do not travel, secular Israelis without automobiles must make do with taxis or stay close to home because in most places there is little in the way of public transportation; most shops, restaurants and places of entertainment are closed.
Not surprisingly, many Anglo-Israelis along with immigrants from the former Soviet Union, would gladly work part of Fridays, just as they did in the "Old Country," in order to get a breather on Sunday. Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky has long campaigned to make Sunday a day of leisure. His thought is that sharing Sundays off would reduce social and religious tensions and create opportunities for positive interaction between observant and secular Israelis.

Likud Party powerbroker, Silvan Shalom, the vice premier and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's arch political rival has also long been committed to the 5-day workweek with Sundays off. Shalom has argued that Israel needs to be in synch with the global economy. Why have Tel Aviv's stock market closed when everyone else's is trading (on Friday) and open (on Sunday) when world markets are closed? His plan would have Israelis work until noon on Fridays and make up the difference with slightly longer hours Monday through Thursday. There would be a five-day school week with longer hours. The result would be a calmer more harmonious country, Shalom promises.

Now, two Likud Knesset members, Ze'ev Elkin, and Yariv Levin, have introduced legislation along the lines proposed by Shalom. Their angle is that changing demographics – increasing numbers of religiously observant Israelis – has provided a fresh economic incentive for a Sunday that would encourage this sector to spend money on cultural activities, sporting events and at the malls.

Many but plainly not all native-born Israelis would be willing to go along with the idea. Israel's secular majority prefers not working on Shabbat. On the other hand, younger secular people feel as though they already have a normal two-day weekend and have no great desire to exchange Friday for Sunday. Some worry they might lose benefits they now enjoy on Saturday (sporting events, culture, and limited shopping) in exchange for Sundays off. They've anyway found workarounds to mandated Shabbat closings. Many Tel Aviv nightspots are open; 12 percent of Israelis choose to work on Shabbat, and 44% enjoy limited shopping.

While some in the national religious sector have long favored the Sunday option, others are more wary. They like the idea of having a day off to do some of the same things their secular family and friends do, but worry that they will not have enough time, after working a shortened Friday, to prepare for Shabbat or travel to distant family before sundown. Others are dubious that having Sundays off will actually reduce desecration of the Sabbath. And the more insular ultra-Orthodox are vehemently opposed to Sundays on the grounds that it is a Christian rest day. Last but not least, Moslem citizens (some 16% of the population) are also less than keen to have to work on Fridays since it is the only day when believers are obligated to offer midday prayers communally in a mosque.

The economic impact of making the switch will likely carry the greatest weight. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz worries that a 5-day work week, with Sunday off, would result in Fridays being fretted away, especially in the short days of the winter months. In effect, Israel would be transitioning unthinkingly to a four-day workweek. Better to transform, officially, Fridays as the start of a two-day weekend, says Steinitz. On the other hand, the country's hoteliers support the Sunday scheme, as does the Manufacturers Association, Chamber of Commerce and teachers unions. Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer has not come out publicly on the issue but is reportedly sympathetic. The same is said of Histadrut Labor Federation chief Ofer Eini.

Following the old adage "when in doubt form a committee," Netanyahu has appointed Eugene Kandel, head of his National Economic Council to chair a panel that is to look into the matter.

No one doubts that frazzled Israelis could use the down time of a real Sunday. Who would not savor sunset on Shabbat knowing that they had the next day off? But creating a real Sunday weekend would require radical cultural adaptations, major revamping of the school calendar and tortuous amending of the nation's labor laws.
The "peace process" seems like an easier undertaking.


Monday, July 04, 2011

Israel Army Radio Galatz

Radio Waves

Radio in Israel is as ubiquitous as hummus, falafel and politics. During their morning and evening commutes, motorists as well as bus passengers (captive to the listening tastes of their drivers) are likely to be hearing one of seven Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) affiliated stations or one of two Army Radio outlets. The airwaves are further cluttered (or enriched, depending on one's viewpoint) by almost two dozen other stations catering to varied tastes from Tel Aviv chic to ethnic Mizrahi. This diverse menu of regional, musical, programmatic and language options does not include Arutz-7, whose broadcasts of news, talk and religious music, aimed primarily at residents of Judea and Samaria, have been restricted by government regulators to the Internet.

IBA public broadcasting is supported by a mandatory license fee bolstered by commercial advertising; Army Radio is funded out of the Defense Ministry budget though also complemented by ads. While both networks have come in for criticism over their perceived liberal bias the complaints against Army Radio seem – as we shall see – more egregious.

In May, Israel's cabinet extended Army Radio's right to sell advertising without which it would have been forced to gut its broadcast schedule. Only, however, after Defense Minister Ehud Barak was directed to come up with the beginnings of an oversight plan and to find a new station director. For now, there is no public oversight whatsoever. In fact, the only leverage elected officials presently have over Army Radio is to threaten its right to sell commercial airtime.

Army Radio (known by the Hebrew acronym GALATZ which stands for Galei Tzahal or "IDF waves") was founded in 1951 aimed at conscripts and reservists. The schedule was expanded and a much wider audience sought after the 1967 Six Day War. Broadcasting primarily from Jaffa, the station (like its IBA counterpart) begins its broadcast day with a nod to Jewish civilizational values: IBA starts with a superbly done vintage recording of "Here O, Israel" (Deuteronomy Chapter 6:4-9) while Army Radio currently opens with a three-minute reading from Ethics of Our Fathers.

GALATZ maintains its own independent news operation – it is by no means the voice of the army – in addition to offering current events, economics, music and cultural programming, it is also a platform for Open University academic lectures.

But it is mostly known for its three back-to-back A.M. programs, Boker Tov Israel, Nachon L'HaBoker, hosted by Niv Raskin and Ma Bo'er? with Razi Barkei. Together, they help to reinforce or frame the political and news agenda for the day. These on-air personalities, as well as noontime magazine host Yael Dayan and evening drive time anchor Yaron Wilinski are all civilians though field reporters, technicians, some producers and most off-hours news readers are uniformed recruits. Indeed, many of Israel's best known media personalities got their professional start at Army Radio.
GALGALATZ, GALATZ's enormously popular sister station, was established in 1993. Targeted at a younger, trendier, audience -- soldiers SMS requests for the latest Western and Hebrew pop music -- the station is also known for streaming traffic reports and public service announcements promoting safe driving.

As for its liberal slant, GALATZ is arguably no worse than any other Israeli radio or television outlet except for the fact that it is, after all, "the home of the soldiers" which might imply bipartisanship. However, according to Dror Eydar, a columnist for the centrist tabloid Israel HaYom, the bias is endemic; manifested by the choice of topics debated, questions asked, semantics employed and interviewees invited.
Even news bulletins are occasionally slanted. For instance, in February 2011, the headlines on two different mornings led with criticisms leveled against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman – as if the views of this inveterate Netanyahu critic were somehow remarkable. Nor has it been uncommon for Army Radio to invite, day-after-day, the same panel of advocacy journalists from Haaretz to provide their analysis of the news. Recently, when the European-funded pressure group "Peace Now" hawked as scandalous a government decision to construct apartments beyond the 1949 Armistice Lines, though well inside metropolitan Jerusalem, GALATZ presenter Micah Friedman framed the issue thusly: “Will the American government soon have a thousand and four hundred new reasons for tension with Israel?” One quantitative study that examined Army Radio bias found that for every right-wing voice aired, there were 1.3 left-wing voices; for every minute allocated right-wing ideas, leftist ideas were allocated 1.37 minutes.

It's not just right-wingers who are uncomfortable with Army Radio's partisanship. Amit Segal, an Army Radio "graduate" now with Channel 2 commercial television news, wondered how GALATZ became so out of touch with the Israeli consensus. And Yediot Aharonot's Nahum Barnea, doyen of liberal tabloid columnists, while lauding the station's "quality programming" in a recent (July 1) Friday piece, argued that GALATZ's connection to the army seemed "anachronistic." You don't have to be a rightist, Barnea granted, to concede that providing Hamas spokesman with freedom of expression in the midst of the Gaza war was "problematic." If nothing else, Barnea concluded, broadcasting enemy views "confuses" IDF soldiers on the battlefield. He also took GALATZ to task for cultivating a journalistic culture that left recruits assigned to the station largely cut-off from the reality under which the rest of the army operates.

Barnea's criticism demolished the notion that discontent with Army Radio is a right-wing affair, but his solution -- delinking the station from the defense establishment – would not necessarily result in a more politically balanced broadcast band. Instead, why not insist that public broadcasting aim for bipartisanship? A properly regulated GALATZ could yet promote societal cohesion, give voice to mainstream Israeli values, while taking care to provide expression for minority views at both ends of the political spectrum.


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